'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at The Taft School

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • @nancysjanis417


Life is random and unfair. Life is pandemonium. 

WATERTOWN, CT - The Taft School presented three free performances of their spring musical, ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ in the vintage Bingham Auditorium. The fun little show has music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin and was conceived by Rebecca Feldman. The Taft production was directed by teacher Helena Fifer who was assisted by Susan Becker Aziz, with musical direction by the wonderfully talented TJ Thompson and choreography by Kayla Kim ‘16 and Allison Hsu ‘16. 

The director writes in her note that these precocious spellers remind us “that
The pressure of achievement is something we all grapple with.
Everyone has some baggage, so get over yourself.
It’s hard to grow up, and it stinks to lose.
Winning isn’t everything, and
Life goes on, even after you lose.”

The charming cast was made up of Taft high school students, many of whom were appearing in their final role at the school. Senior Maggie Luddy (Tracy in Taft’s ‘Hairspray’) was a very strong Rona Lisa and I really enjoyed her fabulous accent. Talented senior Carey Canata switched seamlessly from the role of Chip, to one of Logainne’s dads, as well as another heavenly cameo role. Senior Allison Hsu was an adorable Logainne and Junior Nick Olsen was loveable as the spacey hippie-child Leaf. Sophomore Marley Thompson got to play the gentle Olive, as opposed to the less-than-kind roles of the sea witch Ursula or ‘Hairspray’s’ Velma, and she definitely proved her range. 

Sophomore Peter Dzubay brought lots of energy to the role of William Barfee (with his magic foot) as well as the other dad. Triple threat Kayla Kim, a senior, never broke character as the overachiever Marcy Park and wow did she dance. Senior Nick Burnham was pronouncer Douglas Patch and did well with the comedy. Sophomore Jasmine Galante was a unique take on comfort counselor “Midge Mahoney;” she had plenty of attitude and can belt with the best of them. 

There were some cute references to the “gym with a balcony,” the election of 2016 and Donald Trump, and the contestants even posed in front of a selfie stick.  “Life is Pandemonium” was fun and well-staged and the four volunteer spellers that included at least a few Taft teachers were integrated well and accepted the good-natured ribbing graciously. The distribution of sparkly top hats for “Magic Foot” via wires was very impressive. 

In the pit were Maggie Whittemore ‘19, Gerry Calles ‘18, Katie Bontje ‘16, and CJ Silverman ‘18 as members of the Coneybear family. The mostly students in the production crew constructed and scenically painted the set, hung and focused the lighting equipment, and set up the sound system engineered by Chip Machokas. Unfortunately, the upper range notes of more than one singer were often lost, perhaps due to spring allergies or microphone issues. 

Costumes designed by Ms. Aziz had some interesting twists on the usual fare and the set designed by David Kievit was a mixture of high tech video screens (with some cute graphics and photos) and authentic elementary school chairs. It was lit nicely by Harry Wang. The fine orchestra directed by Mr. Thompson included Sonia Huang ‘16 on keyboard #2, Abby Wang ‘16 on reeds, George Kroqi on cello and Ciara Connolly ‘17 on drums. 

Congratulations to the Taft students and the faculty that work with them on yet another great production of one of my favorite shows, even if it was smaller in size than the usual spring musicals produced at the school. I am glad that I managed to catch the closing performance.