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Sunday, June 16, 2024
Anna Velazquez plays Logainne in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Hippodrome Theatre.
Anna Velazquez plays Logainne in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Hippodrome Theatre.

The Hippodrome Theatre’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” production burst onto the playhouse’s stage with an energy that carried through to its curtain call. 

In its first weeks, the show’s hunger for laughs was satiated by eager crowds that loved — and for some audience members, lived — every moment. 

Directed by Stephanie Lynge, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” follows a group of young spellers navigating the titular Putnam County Bee. Transforming the Hippodrome’s thrust stage into a realistic school gymnasium, The Bee was then thrust into the hearts of the Gainesville community. 

A comedy relying heavily on its actors’ improvisational skills, the show is no easy feat. At first, its almost rhythmic comedic timing was a bit of a challenge for the show to match at its onset. But once the show found its footing, it could not be stopped. 

No stranger to directing comedies, Lynge said her past acting and directing experience informed her direction of the production. 

“I am very comfortable working in the realm of musicals and comedy, as that was where I worked as an actor for many years,” she said. “Comedies are hard because you have to balance the honest character motivations and feelings with keeping the comedy of the piece alive.”  

The first act welcomes selected audience members onto the stage to participate in the Spelling Bee.

As a director, Lynge displays a clear eye for humorous jokes catered to a wide audience.

References to pop idols such as Beyoncé and Taylor Swift act as quick grabs for viewers’ attention.

“This particular script asks for those types of additions, it is part of the improvisational element of this play,” Lynge said. “I always open up ideas to the cast and usually they come up with the best ideas.”

Vocally, the cast delivered an array of solos and ensemble pieces. Among these is “Pandemonium” in the first act. 

Post intermission it was “The I Love You Song” which found viewers in bated breath until the song’s emotional end. Here Josslyn Shaw, who plays Olive; Laura Hodos, who plays Rona; and the harmonies of understudy Ethan Garrepy, who plays Mitch, prompted an audience member to exclaim “damn.” 

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Garrepy, a 20-year-old UF fine arts junior, acted as an understudy during the show’s second preview for Eduardo Rivera, the actor who usually plays the role of Mitch. 

They said being a swing  — or an actor who has to understudy for various roles — was challenging but incredibly rewarding. 

“I do have to memorize all of the music and all of the lines per each role,” they said. “Luckily I had a good amount of rehearsal time for that particular role… so I felt prepared enough to really act.”  

Musical numbers choreographed by Calypso Haddad had infectious moves. The ending of the song “Magic Foot” saw an invited audience member doing his best to mimic the moves. 

Ashley Thompson, an avid theater-goer and Gainesville resident was familiar with the show before seeing it at the Hippodrome. She happily recommends the show to others. 

“I thought the cast was phenomenal and did such a wonderful job bringing those roles to life,” Thompson said. 

Her favorite part was an actor's improvised decision to pick her as his love interest in the crowd. 

“That made me feel really good,” Thompson said. “Definitely the confidence boost I needed.”

Stephanie Lynge’s adaptation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will play at the Hippodrome until July 7. 

Contact Sydney Johnson at Follow her on X @sydajohnson15

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Sydney Johnson

Sydney Johnson is a third-year journalism major with a minor in education. In her free time, she enjoys crossword puzzles and sewing.

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