The 25th Annual Putnam
County Spelling Bee
Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Can you spell A-W-E-S-O-M-E???
|Griffin Theatre presents|
|The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee|
Review by Katy Walsh
Griffin Theatre Company opens its 25th Anniversary Season with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
C-l-e-v-e-r! Rebecca Feldman originated the improvisational play “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E” to be performed by The Farm, an improv troupe in New York. The “Spelling Bee” was then workshopped and developed at the Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts. With music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss, the Bee went to Broadway. It garnered six Tony Award nominations in 2005, winning for Best Book. The peppy musical is set in an elementary school gymnasium (designed this time with parochial perfection by Joe Schermoly). Six prepubescent kids battle for a chance to compete in the national spelling bee. The dull premise makes for an imaginative lampoon. And Griffin’s production had me LMAO! I’m certain this is the most fun anyone has ever had at a spelling bee!
These characters are characters. And under the masterful direction of Scott Weinstein, this sublime ensemble morph into the quirky, spelling-obsessed. Their quest to win makes for a riotous frolic. Leading the laugh-fest is the dazzling Daniel Desmarias (Leaf). Desmarias endears as a home-schooled, soft-hearted, colorfully-clothed misfit. Whether falling off the bleachers or singing “I’m not that smart,” Desmarias is the beloved underdog. He is just a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e! Although he has fierce competition in spelling and comedy from the entire cast, the other two peculiar contestants are also noteworthy. The brainy-geek Conor McCahill (William) delivers a confident ‘of course’ to every lunatic request. Between his dancing foot and his unfortunate ‘Barfee’ surname, McCahill’s affected diction nails the joke every time. As a pint-sized intellectual, Landree Fleming (Logainne) forcefully lisps her way towards the big prize. She pushes up her oversized glasses to trace letters on her arm. It’s just one of mega shticks that exploit the oddity to heighten the joke. And it works! These overachieving nerds are hysterical!
The show is also interactive. Audience members appear as contestants. Their presence adds to the humor as the cast pushes and pulls them into Sawyer Smith’s spirited choreography. At my performance, the sole remaining walk-on speller (Playwright Ike Holter) had a fit of the giggles during Steven Perkins’ (Mitch) soulful reflection. In the next scene, the effervescent Laura McClain (Rona) reprimands Holter with a brilliant improvised barb. McClain delivers plenty of wit as the seemingly normal one in her loony hometown.
The comedy is not the only reason to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The high-energy numbers are spritely orchestrated by Musical Director Matt Deitchman. The cast can zing and sing with equally amusing harmony. Get to the Bee and see a w-i-n-n-e-r!
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues through December 15th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $31-436, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GriffinTheatre.com. (Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, NO intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Laura McClain (Rona Lisa Peretti), Andy Cameron (Vice-Principal Douglas Panch), Steven Perkins (Mitch Mahoney), Landree Fleming (Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre), Charlotte Ellison (Olive Ostrovsky), Rochelle Therrien (Marcy Park), William Lucas (Charlito “Chip” Tolentino), Conor McCahill (William Barfée), Daniel Desmarias (Leaf Coneybear), Lillie Cummings (understudy)
behind the scenes
Scott Weinstein (director), Matt Deitchman (music director), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Julian Pike (lighting design), Joe Schermoly (set design), Christian Gero (sound design), Katie Messmore (stage manager), Tyler Sawyer Smith (choreography), Sarah Burnham (props design), Majel Cuza (production manager), Spencer Neiman (asst. director), Andrew Glasenhardt (tech director), Michael Brosilow (photos)