‘Putnam County’ brings laughter back to St. John stage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 31, 2012

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – After being dark for most of the winter, the stage at St. John Theatre is once again buzzing with activity as it prepares to present “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in March.

Most of the cast will be familiar to those who have visited the theater recently. Many on the cast of nine, including Coleen Robinson, Chris Frederic, Jennifer DeLatte, Sean Roussel, Logan Viverito and Melanie Kunz Estopinal, appeared in last year’s successful production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Chris Workmon, who has been in productions at St. John Theatre since 1981, also appears in the show.

Another cast member, Tammi Esposito Marshall, has not been seen on the Reserve stage in quite a while, but that doesn’t mean she’s a greenhorn.

“I’ve done a lot with St. James Theatre, but this is my first time at St. John Theatre since I was a kid,” she said.

Rounding out the cast is Darryl Clement, whose work is usually behind the scenes as director. Although he is directing this show as well, Clement will join the other actors in a non-singing role.

“We’re always short on guys. Knowing that, I decided I would do it if I had to, but the part is a perfect fit,” he said, adding, “Being a small show, having a stellar cast, it makes it that much easier to put yourself on stage.”

The show, which will be unfamiliar to most local theatergoers, is a one-act musical comedy about a spelling bee. Six of the cast members will portray the young spellers, a switch from the theater’s usual conundrum of casting youth in roles written for much older characters. Many of the show’s laughs come from the unusual individuals who populate Putnam County.

“Every character has their quirk,” said DeLatte.

“The audience is going to have a blast,” added Clement, who noted the show is a slight departure from the norm.

“We haven’t done a musical in this slot in a long time,” he said. “We wanted it to be something fresh. This show won a number of Tony awards when it came out. To some people, it will be funnier than ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.’”

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is the last major production to have graced the stage at St. John Theatre. On Nov. 1, 2011, the theater went dark so renovations, including a major upgrade to the theater’s air conditioning system, could take place.

According to Managing Director Denise Borell, two A/C units that were at least 30 years old were replaced, and now not only will the audience be able to stay cool, but the actors may even sweat a little less under the glare of the stage lights. It may be quite a change for those who have become accustomed to sweating through performances during the summer months.

“If it is a warm season, bring a jacket,” said Borell.

In addition to providing a more comfortable experience for both actors and audience, another noticeable difference will be evident to those attending a matinee. The huge duct hole that previously partially lit the theater during the day for much of last year is gone.

Borell added many other smaller upgrades are also being made.

“The parish stepped up and took care of us,” she said.

Borell also said the theater will once again announce the upcoming season with an event at PJ’s Coffee in LaPlace. That event will take place Feb. 9. 5-7 p.m.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will take to the stage March 9-10 and 16-17.