Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre presents the Tony Award-winning musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin. Jeffrey Davis directs this riotous production about a band of misfit pre-teens vying for the coveted trophy in a National Spelling Bee.
Bleachers, lockers, school banners, and a brick wall create the atmosphere of a middle school onstage, and as the characters enter, it’s clear by their costumes that these are no ordinary kids. One boy’s outfit consists of pajama pants, a superhero cape over a tie-dye t-shirt, and a helmet, while another wears a boy-scout uniform next to a girl with high, tightly braided pigtails. Every child’s outfit is as unique as their personalities, which the clothes compliment well. Lighting Designer Jeanne Forbes keeps the stage well-lit, following the characters with a well-trained spotlight when they wander from the stage, and the sound is also done well, playfully speeding up and slowing down in a memorable scene while characters are spelling words.
One interesting aspect of this production is audience participation as four members of the audience are pre-chosen to compete in the competition, making each performance unique in its own way (I was one of these participants during the showing I attended, and while I’m glad that I had the experience, I was more than willing to give the stage back to the professionals! It’s nerve-racking up there!). The cast sings the catchy “The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” with fun choreography by Mary Payne, before the audience is introduced to the contestants – and the burdens that they carry with them.
Casey Fero is adorably sweet as Leaf Coneybear, a runner-up contestant who found his place at the Bee because three people ahead of him all could not make it, and he sings about his insecurities in the song, “I’m Not that Smart.” Jason Krage is hilarious as the geeky William Barfee, whose song “Magic Foot” proved to be an audience favorite due to the especially energetic choreography. Cub Scout Chip Tolentino (Harrison G. Lee) finds himself in a highly embarrassing situation with “My Unfortunate Distraction,” and Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre gets caught in an uncomfortable dilemma when her father presents an unethical method of winning. Overachiever Marcy Park (Kathleen J. McCormack) and sweet Olive Ostrovsky (Barbara Lawson) round out the contestants.
Lyle Blake Smythers and Brett Warner Hurt are great as Vice Principal Douglas Patch and Rona Lisa Perretti – the adults who run the Bee, one with anger issues and the other battling nostalgia for her own youthful days. Hurt also takes a turn as Olive Ostrovsky’s absent mother in the touching, “The I Love You Song,” and shows off a lovely singing voice. Not every singing voice is stellar, but the best vocals belong Antonio Bullock, who does an excellent job as Mitch Mahoney, an intimidating assistant at the Bee who is fulfilling his parole duties with the song, “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.”
The stakes are high, and each character takes them on with different ambitions and setbacks. As each contestant goes down, every reaction is different, from humiliation, grace, relief, to downright tantrums! Who will win the Bee? And at what cost? Playful and fun, with touching moments and real emotions,
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a real W-I-N-N-E-R!
Running time is approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through November 25, 2012 at Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre – 10712 Richmond Highway, in Lorton, VA. For reservations, call (703) 550-7384.