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Review: Can you spell LAUGHTER Dont miss this spelling bee

by David Meyer

WATERLOO - It is difficult imagining attending a spelling bee for entertainment, but it is easy to recommend The 25th Annual Putnam County Spell­ing Bee for anyone from teenager to octogenarian.

The only warning about this musical comedy at the St. Jacobs Playhouse is to beware sore ribs because the show is killer funny.

It would take Americans, who love contests, to turn spelling into a spectator sport. The problem is, while most sports attract heroes or near heroes, spelling bees attract, well, somewhat different types.

In this particular show, there are what might be considered stereotypical spelling bee contestants, from the aggressive overachiever, the ultra-pressured kid, a total flake, an outcast, last year’s winner, and an out-of-place runner-up.

Rachel Sheinkin did the book and sneaks in all kinds of sports motifs, too. When the contestants are introduced, the emcees (two more hilarious characters) toss out biograph­ical tidbits about them just as they do when a batter comes to the plate in the World Series. Trouble is, no ball player was every intro­duced with lines like, “started a gay straight alliance at her elementary school,” or "Miss (“Smith”) is a child prodigy who is currently writing an opera in braille."

Robin Calvert plays, wait for it, Logainne Schwartz­and­­gruben­i­ere to hilarious effect. If her name sounds like a jaw cracker, it is. She, of course, talks with a lisp.

Kimmy Choi plays Marcy Park, the overachiever, and she demonstrates that in a spec­tacular number, I Speak Six Languages. She not only excels in sports, she dances, and plays a number of instruments during that song - and is totally bored with always winning.

There really is no weak cast member, and every one of the players has a special moment or six. Patrick Cook, as Chip Tolentino, heavily into puberty, has an hilarious turn, proving accidents can happen - even to winners.

Tess Benger has one of the most poignant moments as shy girl Olive Ostrovsky, as well as a chance to knock the audience flat with her incredible voice, and she does just that.

Jeff Moulton, as the flaky Leaf Conneybear, and Nick Settimi, as William Barfe´e (the accent is needed - and seldom used), each have comedic turns that keep the audience howling.

James Kall is the director, and he also plays a distraught vice-principal who reads the words to be spelled and uses them in sentence - to hilarious effect. He and Leis Horner, as Rona Lisa Peretti, a former spelling champ, play perfectly off each other.

One of the biggest oddball stars of the show is Lee Siegel, as ex-convict Mitch Mahoney, who is performing his com­munity service by escorting the losers off the stage. He is not only intimidating, and totally funny, too, but also he has an incredible voice.

There are other stars of the show. Four audience members volunteer to spell with the players. We swear one of them at the show we saw was an old baseball opponent. He got a few right. The authors have a perfect (funny) way to get them gone by the end of act one.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was a surprise hit on Broadway, and will likely surprise many who get talked into attending. The pre­mise is not that great, and nobody we saw that night left the show humming the music.

But the acting is superb and the timing that is vital to a show like this was there in spades. There was seldom a slip, which is particularly challenging with four unknown amateurs on stage for the first act, and while some people might have entered the theatre a little dubious - everyone leave smiling.

Lighting, sound, and cos­tumes are all up to Drayton Entertainment’s usual high standards. It was particularly good when one of the spellers has a religious moment: “Jesus, Will you care if I lose?”

(Ethereal voice) “No. But I won't care if you win either. I don't care about things like this.”

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through July 24. For tickets, call 519-638-5555, or 1-888-449-4463, or visit www.­draytonfestival


Vol 43 Issue 29


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