Saturday, May 23, 2009

New Review Posted: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Centerstage has posted my review of Spelling Bee at the Marriott in Lincolnshire, which I saw on Wednesday night. You can read the review here, with all of the pretty pictures and information, or just read it below.

I really do recommend it strongly, by the way--it is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time, and the acting is really exceptional. If you have a car and $45, it's very worth the trek to Lincolnshire. (And I bet discounts can be found.)

Anyhow, here is the review:

"I'm not that smart," confesses Leaf Coneybear (Derrick Trumbly). He's been home-schooled, undermined by his many siblings, wears bizarre clothes that he designed himself, and is socially awkward to the point of behavioral disorder.

Yet, as he finds, he is that smart — he's made it to the titular spelling bee and spells with the best of them. Similarly, one might dismiss The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as nothing much — who wants to see pubescent kids struggle through a spelling bee and sing about it? Well, the doubters are wrong: the show is utterly hilarious, surprisingly warm, and almost criminally entertaining.

The play, with a brilliantly witty, Tony-winning book by Rachel Sheinkin and a zippy and tuneful score by William Finn, focuses on six misfit contestants at the regional spelling bee finals. All focused on the final prize, a trip to Washington DC for the national finals. Three clueless adults attempt to help them along, while often getting caught up in their own dramas. Each has their own bizarre set of quirks, from William Barfee (Eric Roediger), overweight, allergic to everything, and hostile to everyone, to Marcy Park (Katie Boren), chafing against her constant record of overachievement.

Director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell has shaped the cast into one of the best ensembles I've seen in a long time. Each of the nine actors has a razor-sharp take on his or her character, down to the tiny quirks and habits, yet none hogs the spotlight. It’s really extraordinary work.

The physical production is perfectly in line with the show's sensibility — Nancy Missimi's costumes are particularly spot-on — and the show is exceptionally well-sung and played. It's not for the easily offended, but it's one of the best combinations of hilarity and heart around, and more fun than I've had at the theatre in months.

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