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Davis, California

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

If you like to laugh, if you like to spell…

Life is pandemonium. Life is pandemonium. Life is p-a-n-d-e-m-o-n-i-u-m!

With a huge smile seeming to have been permanently plastered across my face and the catchy tune “Life is Pandemonium” humming brightly in my head, I walked out of the Main Theatre last Thursday night feeling nearly giddy. Musicals tend to have that effect on me. But, this time the feeling was different. There was an element of pride mixed in there somewhere among the bouncy songs and echoing laughter replaying in my head.

Dancing, acting, singing. The three magical components which make musicals so great but most importantly, challenging. The seven week musical theatre summer intensive program led by Timothy Orr, Thomas Munn and Production Director Mindy Cooper has been preparing students for this production since this past August through September. Within these seven weeks, students had to master choreography, singing, harmonies, comedic timing, and dance routines. And let’s just say, those were seven weeks were very successful.

The play’s self-titled opening number The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee greeted the audience and stage with nothing less than vibrant energy. Starting out with a single voice then growing into a large ensemble of harmonies between the entire cast and live orchestra; the theatre was pulsating with wonderful noise and laughter.

Like a symbiotic relationship between the audience and the cast members, the two fed energy off of each other. As William Finn intended when he constructed the Broadway musical, there is no fourth wall which separates the audience and cast. Audience volunteers came on stage and became participators in the spelling bee and added an element of unpredictability to the script. But more shocking was the guest appearance of our very own Chancellor Linda Katehi.

“Can you please spell ‘Fandango’ please?” said Vice Principal Douglas. “Can you please use that word in a sentence?” asked Katehi. Vice Principle Douglas replies with a monotone voice: “I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche will you do the Fandango?” (lyrics from “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen). With that, the audience broke out laughing hysterically. Unfortunately Katehi, who appeared nervous and never had heard the word before, spelled the word incorrectly. Nonetheless, she was escorted off the stage with a grand performance of the infamous “Good-bye Song” and supporting applause of the audience.

Aside from the humorous numbers such as “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament)” performed by Jazz Trice, there were some tear-evoking moments such as “The I Love You Song” performed by Elizabeth Tremaine, Alison Sundstrom and Ryan Geraghty. There’s no doubt that this song is exceptionally difficult to sing but Tremaine hit the high notes beautifully and with the fitting and haunting touch of vibrato.

Other grand performances included “Magic Foot” performed by Matthew Dunivan who played a perfect grumpy and I-can-only-breathe-through-one-nostril William Barfee. What started out as a solo foot dance transformed into an epic kick-line with back-up dancers. But perhaps the most expressive and colorful character on the stage was Leaf Coneybear played by Esteban Gonzales. You can’t help but smile when Coneybear sings “I’m Not That Smart” with the biggest smile and breaking into a ballerina-esqe dance.

Production Director Cooper allowed some artistic freedom for actors during performances. There seemed to be moments of improvisation and raw discovery. It’s a tricky and exciting strategy when order meets chaos and structure meets unpredictability. During “Pandemonium” when chaos broke on stage, basketballs flew everywhere, bleachers rotated, and a person (which was actually a doll) fell from the ceiling, the audience were kept on the edge of their seats and awed by the simultaneous splurge of movement.

Despite not having an intermission, the performances were so entertaining that it didn’t seem to bother the audience a bit. Each song and dance numbers evoked laughter and at times, tears (probably from laughing so hard). This production is a spectacular which captures the elements which make musical Broadways so popular and timeless. If these colorful characters and vibrant voices don’t leave you walking away grinning foolishly, then I suppose we’ll just have to re-analyze your Weltanschauung.

UYEN CAO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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