Spelling Bee is truly a wonderful show that is so rarely produced due to the calibre of performers necessary to pull it off. This particular production is definitely worth experiencing for the comedy, the colour and the calibre of several pretty special performers.
Vic Theatre Company entered strongly into 2015 by presenting the award-winning and largely well received Loving Repeating, demonstrating that they were a force to be reckoned with.
The set design by William Bobbie Stewart was truly immersive and exceptionally authentic. Its capacity to feel as though the community had banded together to create something nice for the kids is actually very inspiring. Every piece of bunting, every paper plate bee, every streamer screams ‘community’ and injects the heart that really warms a show like this. Interestingly, throughout the show it felt as though some of the heart behind it started to wane, as though it became a bit too serious and ‘constructed’ with performances that appeared to sometimes lose some of the real schmaltzy substance under the text. It was at these points in the show that the environment’s simplicity and homeliness really pulled everything back into perspective and really refocused the intended mood and allegiance with some of these characters. Lighting also did well to achieve a comparable evocation of emotion with its similarly authentic vibes and commitment to dynamics.
Giraud’s direction provided his cast with a very structured platform to fundamentally let loose. His vision was very strong, very clear and, for the most part, satisfactorily fulfilled. Choreography allowed for a sense of controlled chaos, reflecting the character’s inner turmoil at some points, and creating a strong base to effectively involve the audience spellers in on the fun. It was appropriate, stylish and aesthetically pleasing. Musical direction was very good throughout and a joy to experience at every turn. The cast sounded great, particularly when blending together and the band was an absolute treat.
The use of ‘janitors’ etc to make transitions between scenes flawless is great. Particularly impressive was the humour provided by head janitor, Riley Nottingham – What a cameo!
The individual cast performances were generally very engaging and appropriately distinct. As the hosts/judges of the competition, ‘Rona Lisa Peretti’ and ‘Douglas Panch’, played by Rebecca Moore and David Spencer respectively, had the audience in stitched. The improv chops on both performers were impressive and fundamental to the pace and engagement of this piece. Both showed an intense commitment to their characters and never strayed despite some of the ridiculous things they were commenting on. The vocals of the pair were equally impressive.
Caitlin Mathieson simply embodied ‘Olive’. Her portrayal was natural and representative of so many school kids around the world, eager to have a go, feigning a strong façade, but with very little means and inconsistent support at home. Her quaintness was pure gold and allowed for a strong contrast to the raw emotion that poured out during ‘The I Love You Song’.
Standout performances of the evening were dished out by Henry Brett (‘Leaf’) and Andrew Hondromatidis (‘William’). Having seen Brett perform in quite some number of roles now, his versatility never ceases to impress. It was the subtleties of his performance that were the most powerful, the mannerisms and nuances, use of voice and body, all the bare necessities of a quirky and atypical character were clear and consistent. His vocal performance was outstanding and loaned itself to the better understanding of the character, without overpowering his gentle nature. His ability to capture the true core of a character is really something. His additional portrayal of Loggaine’s other dad was a real highlight.
Hondromatidis absolutely shone as ‘William Barfee’. From the first moment the audience met William, until he left the stage for the last time, Hondromatidis makes no apologies for an amazingly credible, unpretentious and heart-warming portrayal of that kid we’ve all known at one time in our lives and have certainly grown to find the good in. Hilariously funny, but incredibly calculated. An exceptionally strong portrayal that will certainly leave something for audiences, long after the curtain closes.
Spelling Bee is truly a wonderful show that is so rarely produced due to the calibre of performers necessary to pull it off. This particular production is definitely worth experiencing for the comedy, the colour and the calibre of pretty special performers.