The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – 4 Stars

Spelling

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Drayton Arms

Reviewed – 31st May 2018

★★★★

“The cast were superb, with the quality of sound leaving a lasting impression after the show was through”

 

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is a musical mouthful to explain to your friends, but it delivers the plot of this 2005 Broadway musical succinctly and accurately. The story follows the fortunes of six students in their local final of the all-American tradition of the Spelling Bee, each with a good shot at winning and with their own story to tell of how they got there.

What sets this musical apart is its use of audience participation, inviting four audience members up onto stage in Act One to also take part as finalists. Watching each audience member attempt to spell with varying levels of willingness and success was very entertaining, and the novelty and improvised nature in the early rounds stove off any doldrum due to the repetitive nature of the Spelling Bee, keeping it entertaining for longer than would have been possible without it.

The songs giving insight to each character’s life, rather than necessarily moving the plot along, become more tiresome in the second half when the contest becomes a simple whittling down to find the winner. I found the building blocks of the show including plot, music and lyrics to be unimaginative, and was surprised to learn that the original Broadway production earnt a Tony award for Best Book of a Musical. However, the piece was produced and performed with such enjoyment that I couldn’t help but enjoy it myself.

The cast were superb, with the quality of sound leaving a lasting impression after the show was through. Elizabeth Chadwick as the Bee’s facilitator, Rona Lisa Peretti, has a stunningly crystal clear voice, and masterfully guides the action with it. The actors portrayals are also acutely funny, with Michael Watson-Gray as Douglas Panch, the slightly unstable school Vice Principal using each of the required spelling words in wickedly funny sentences. TJ Lloyd as William Barfee and Jeannie May as Marcy Park also had great humour in students who were confidently unphased by the event others were so eager about.

Set design by Victoria Francis is impressive, turning the small studio space of the Drayton Arms Theatre into a miniature school gym with letters littered across the stage, stickered on the floor walls and chairs of the gym. Similarly the choreography by Adam Haigh did well to liven up the action within such tight constraints.

With the components given, this show could have been a drag. But with such joy, care and attention applied by all involved, it instead brightened up my evening.

 

Reviewed by Amber Woodward

Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown

 


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Drayton Arms until 16th June

 

Related
Previously reviewed at this venue
Are There Female Gorillas? | ★★★★ | April 2018

 

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