‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ at Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre by Julia L. Exline

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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.

The cast of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’ Photo courtesy of Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre.

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 cast of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’ Photo courtesy of Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre.

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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. My family and I (including two small children) were seated for a showing of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee tonight and enjoyed it all.. until the gay agenda/political jokes started (“my dads are getting married in Maryland”.. etc). It was too much and just completely ruined our night – nothing about it was funny. It was just propaganda and I felt like I’d been ripped off, as it all started after intermission/tips. I realize it must difficult to find straight male actors… but leave your political views at home or be prepared to lose customers. I’m sorry this establishment has seen the need to take a political stance on this particular issue – we don’t agree with it and won’t be visiting the Lazy Susan again.

    • Dave,
      25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has been an extremely popular show since it debuted in 2005. The content of the show is widely known. If you look up the show on the Internet, virtually every review and every synopsis including those on Wikipedia and the licensing house, MTI includes references to the character Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, whose name itself is one of the jokes of the show, because it is literally her two fathers names run together with an ‘and.’ The only addition this company added was “in Maryland”. Having reviewed another production of this show for a different theatrical review site several years ago, I can tell you that this is an integral part of several portions of the show and was not thrown in as “propaganda.” If you are so concerned about such content, you really should avail yourself of Google to search for show synopses before you buy tickets in the future. Not doing the basic in research and then complaining about the content which is well-known is sheer laziness.

      Ted Ying
      former contributer to DC Theater Scene

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