Review: Akeelah and the Bee (Adventure Stage Chicago)

| November 7, 2017

La Shone T. Kelly stars as Akeelah in Akeelah and the Bee, Adventure Stage Chicago            

Akeelah and the Bee
Adapted by Cheryl L. West
  from screenplay by Doug Atchison
at Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble (map)
thru Nov 22  |  tix: $7-$17  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


‘Akeelah’ is the inspirational play we all need


La Shone T. Kelly stars as Akeelah in Akeelah and the Bee, Adventure Stage Chicago

Adventure Stage Chicago presents
Akeelah and the Bee

Review by Lauren Whalen

At the center of Akeelah and the Bee is a young girl who loves words, and finds a way to channel this love into success. The 2006 film, featuring Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and Keke Palmer was an inspirational hit. Adventure Stage Chicago has adapted the screenplay, relocating the story to the South Side of Chicago, adding Spanish supertitles to make the show more accessible to a larger audience. The result is a sweet, thoughtful 95 minutes, featuring a terrific cast and successfully chronicling race, class and community through the eyes of an ambitious, charismatic middle school student.

La Shone T. Kelly and Eric Gerard star as Akeelah and Reggie in Akeelah and the Bee, Adventure Stage ChicagoAkeelah Anderson (newcomer La Shone T. Kelly) grew up playing Scrabble and doing crosswords with her dad. Since his death, she’s been getting into fights at school and just getting by at home, with a mother (Gabrielle Lott-Rogers) who works as a nurse’s aide, and a brother (Eric Gerard) who has a baby of his own and can’t hold a job. Akeelah’s saving grace might be her talent for spelling, but she’s a reluctant student with an attitude problem. Things change quickly, and for the better, when college professor Dr. Larabee (Michael Anthony Rawlins) – who grew up in Akeelah’s neighborhood and is all too familiar with the obstacles she faces – agrees to coach her for the state spelling bee.

Like the film, Akeelah and the Bee has a lovely, compelling story that appeals to all ages. Cheryl L. West, who adapted Doug Atchison’s screenplay, knows to keep the action moving and when humor is most needed. Director Daryl Brooks emphasizes both comic relief and dramatic action in a way that’s fun for kids and adults alike to watch. It’s refreshing and rewarding to see a play with a young black female lead, one that emphasizes literacy and achieving goals. Akeelah and the Bee treats its young characters with respect, and shows the importance of biological and chosen family without beating the audience over the head with manufactured sweetness. Akeelah is a winning, relatable character who learns to set and achieve goals for her future, while also appreciating what she already has.

Gaby FeBland, Glenn Obrero and Brandon Rivera star in Akeelah and the Bee, Adventure Stage ChicagoBrandon Rivera stars as Javier in Akeelah and the Bee, Adventure Stage Chicago

Adventure Stage Chicago does its usual bang-up job of educational, quality children’s theater that’s also entertaining for parents and teachers. Though a small point, I wish Akeelah would have had more than one costume (she wears her school uniform for the entire duration of the show). Overall, however, Akeelah and the Bee works due to its strong ensemble. There are almost no standouts, because every character is nicely cast and all actors work incredibly well together. Brandi Lee is funny and charismatic as Akeelah’s fashion-plate friend Georgia, and Rawlins’ Dr. Larabee is authoritative yet vulnerable. Both Lott-Rogers and Gerard, who plays Akeelah’s older brother Reggie, give rich and nuanced performances as two people just trying to get by in a world that’s against them. And Kelly is a rising star and a wonder, making Akeelah a winning character I was with from beginning to end.

Like most Adventure Stage productions, Akeelah and the Bee has a limited run that mostly consists of school performances. Even for those outside of the classroom, it’s well worth checking out. With its reverence for language, genuine heart and wonderful cast, Akeelah and the Bee is the play we all need.

Rating: ★★★½

Akeelah and the Bee continues through November 22nd at Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble (map).  Tickets are $7-$17, and are available at (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information, and complete schedule, is available at time: 95 minutes, no intermission)

Michael Anthony Rawlins and La Shone T. Kelly star as Dr. Larabee and Akeelah in Akeelah and the Bee, Adventure St

Photos by Doug Haight




Kelvin Davis (Drunk Willie, Principal), Gaby FeBland (Trish, Mohawk Girl), Eric Gerard (Reggie), Arvin Jalandoon (Dylan’s Dad, Pronouncer), Kyra Jones (Ratchet Ronda), La Shone T. Kelly (Akeelah), Brandi Lee (Georgia), Gabrielle Lott-Rogers (Gail), Glenn Obrero (Dylan, JT), Michael Anthony Rollins (Dr. Larabee), Brandon Rivera (Javier, Chucky), Yahdina U-Deen (Batty Ruth), Almanya Narula, Michelle Thompson-Hay (understudies)

behind the scenes

Daryl Brooks (director), Colleen Layton (production manager), Megan Gray (stage manager), Wendell Etherly (assistant director), Corinee Hastings (assistant stage manager), Mealah Heidenreich (props design), Michael Huey (original music, sound design), John Kelly (lighting design), Jessica Kuehnau Wardell (costume design), Simon Lashford (scenic design), Aaron Quick (projection design), Brian Sprague (technical director), Doug Haight (photos)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Adaptation, Adventure Stage, Children's Theatre, Lauren Whalen, Vittum Theater

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