REVIEW: 25th Annual Spelling Bee (Metropolis Arts)

 

Who knew spelling could be so much fun?

 

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Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
   
The 25th-Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
   
Music/Lyrics by William Finn 
Book by
Rachel Sheinkin
Directed by
Robin M. Hughes
Metropolis Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights
through November 6  | 
tickets: $35-$43   |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian 

For children who enjoy spelling, a spelling bee is to them as football or baseball is to children who enjoy sports. In Metropolis Performing Arts Center’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, based on the original play C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E by The Farm, children of various backgrounds and school districts to come together for one goal: to win the bee and move on to nationals in Washington D.C.

Productions - Spelling Bee - 29 The set, designed by Adam L. Veness, boosts clean, simple lines and looks high quality and authentic. The stage is transformed into a school gym complete with basketball court, bleachers and a climbing rope. School colors are yellow and purple, reflected in the lighting by Yousif Mohamed, which adds depth to the set.

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee opens strong, with the entire cast exuding energy right from the start. Each character brings their own strength to the stage with a catchy and upbeat opening number. This play also calls for audience interaction, which not only bring the audience into the story, but also allows for audience members to experience what it’s like to be on the opposite end of theatre. All the audience members who participated did a good job and added some extra laughs to this already funny show.

As the Bee begins, it becomes clear that each actor worked hard to develop a unique characterization. Logainne Schwartzandgrubernierre (Justine Klein) is sweetly adorable with her lisp. As the show goes on, it becomes clear that under that demeanor is a lot of pressure and expectation to live up to. Klein does an excellent job of rounding out her character and providing multiple layers to keep her character from falling flat. Olive Ostrovsky (Kristine Burdi) has a wonderful childlike innocence and she’s so eager to participate. Burdi has a rockin’ voice that’s on full display in “The I Love You Song,” which also allows her to show the pain Olive is in beneath her cheerful front.

As the Bee goes on, the students prove to be terrific spellers, spelling a random selection of words, as they offer glimpses into their personal lives. Returning Bee champ Chip Tolentino (Ryan Hunt) gets knocked off his horse when a crush on a girl deters his mind and he misspells a word, disqualifying him from nationals. Hunt offers up strong, stellar vocals and is hilarious as he sings about the troubles of teenage boys and puberty in “Chip’s Lament.” Leaf Coneybear (Patrick Tierney) tells about his large family and where he fits in their grand scheme of things in “I’m Not That Smart.” Tierney clearly explored his character’s background and motivations, which come through in his performance. He’s fascinatingly endearing as we witness his winning spelling technique: he falls into a trance, and the letters just come. James Nedrud is spot on with know-it-all William Barfee. Nedrud plays his character acting older than he is and trying to be very serious, which is just hilarious.

 

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Throughout The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, the entire cast keeps up their energy level, keeping the show running smoothly along and the audience engaged. The musical numbers are high energy and feature excellent choreography by Kristen Gurbach Jacobson. What is most impressive is that the singing never suffers during the dancing. The actors are able to continue singing strongly and passionately as they dance around the stage. At a few points the singing fell out of tune, but it never took away from the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the show.

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is a children’s show for adults that leaves the audience laughing as they cheer on the Bee contestants.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

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The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Center, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, IL, through November 6. Tickets cost $35 to $43 can be purchased through the theatre’s Web site.

     
     

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REVIEW: 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Noble Fool)

 

Fun with spelling

 Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

 
Noble Fool Theatricals presents
 
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
 
Conceived by Rebecca Feldman
book by
Rachel Sheinkin and music/lyrics by William Finn
Directed by
Kevin Bellie, music direction by Peter Storms
Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles (map)
Through June 13 | Tickets: $29–39, dinner-show packages $46–59 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Can you spell f-r-i-v-o-l-o-u-s? Airy as Wonder Bread, sweet as Gummi Bears, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee offers a fun and unchallenging evening of musical comedy that will get you home well before the babysitter’s deadline and won’t stick you with inconvenient earworms or lingering deep questions. Winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, Spelling Bee began with Rebecca Feldman’s sketch C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E for her New York comedy group, the Farm. It came to the Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast" attention of Falsettos composer and lyricist William Finn, who brought on Rachel Sheinkin to help him create a musical adaptation. Opened in 2004 by Barrington Stage Company in western Massachusetts, the musical ultimately became a hit on Broadway, where it played for 1,136 performances. The laughs come from juxtaposition of latter-day life problems, age-old preteen angst and the sentimental nostalgia of the old-fashioned spelling-bee competition.

Kevin Bellie and Peter Storms’ vigorous production for Noble Fool Theatricals is as cute as can be, with a bouncy, talented cast and a lively staging. Spelling Bee runs about 90 minutes with no intermission. On opening night, things stretched out a bit longer when one of the audience members participating in the bee — four volunteers are selected for each performance — proved to be an unexpectedly good speller. Having successfully navigated "catterjunes" (part of the show’s improvisational shtick — it isn’t a real word, so they can accept or reject spellings as needed), he also got through "lysergic acid diethylamide" and had to be eliminated with "xerophthalmiology."

A very strong cast of adult actors aptly plays the competing kids, bringing out their humorous quirks without turning them into cartoons. Especially notable performances come from Samantha Dubin as gawky Olive Ostrovsky, anguished over her missing mom — gone to an ashram in India — and emotionally distant dad; Jack Sweeney as the wide-eyed Leaf Coneybear, rising above his family’s expectations; Cara Rifkin as Logainne Schwartandgrubenierre, a determined grammar-school prodigy urged on by her two gay dads; and Ian Paul Custer as William Barfee, a nasally challenged nerd who spells out words with his "magic foot." Chie Isobe plays uptight overachiever Marcy Park, and Erik Kaiko is Chip Tolentino, the too-confident previous year’s champion. Wonderfully expressive Michael Weber portrays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, increasingly tortured and hilarious as the event goes on. As perky Rona Lisa Peretti, Putnam County’s #1 Realtor and the spelling-bee hostess — reliving her own triumph of the second annual Putnam Co. spelling bee — Liza Jaine solos only briefly, but her powerful backup vocals help hold the show together musically. Randolph Johnson adds a rich note as ex-con Mitch Mahoney, especially in his solo, "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor."

Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

Though they’re mostly good-humored, some gags uncomfortably straddle the line between colorful characterizations and offensive caricatures, a blemish exacerbated by Bellie’s casting and Kimberly G. Morris’s costumes. Sheinkin wrote in the flaming gay dads and the overachieving Korean kid, but it was Bellie’s choice to cast the only African American in his show in the parolee’s part and Morris’s to drape him in gold gangsta chains. Amusing lyrics in songs such as "My Friend, the Dictionary" and "Pandemonium" make up for the banal tunes of Finn’s mostly pleasant, but typically repetitive score. Don’t look for big song-and-dance numbers. Like everything else about this show, the songs lack heft, and sometimes seem like fillers. Overall, this musical isn’t about the music. Just enjoy it as a lighthearted romp.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Note: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee contains adult language and themes that parents may consider unsuitable for young children.

Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

    
   

"Little Miss Sunshine" to be made into musical, Finn as composer

lms-van

Yet another movie-turned-musical (e.g., The Producers, Shrek, The Wedding Singer, Billy Elliot, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, 9 to 5, etc.) to be added to the list: Little Miss Sunshine.

This in-the-works musical will make it’s debut next winter at the La Jolla Playhouse.  The 2006 Oscar-nominated, Sundance hit about a lovably dysfunctional family has signed up composer/lyricist William Finn (25th Annual Spelling Bee, Falsettos, New Brain) and book-writer James Lapine (Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Passion). 

With such proven talent, this has the making of a hugely-popular hit.  True, the movie’s dark humor can be quite outrageous, but Finn thrives on such edginess.  And Lapine and Finn have shown that they can play-well-with-each-other through their award-winning collaboration – The 25th-Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Truth be told, with Chicago’s known affinity for new plays, we seem like a much better fit for just such a debut.  But being that Lapine has worked with La Jolla on previous premiers, it makes sense that they landed the gig.

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