BWW Reviews: Ford's Theatre Spells Out S-U-C-C-E-S-S with 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE
The Spelling Bee is as American as Abraham Lincoln. Its cultural and historical significance for the legions of American students who participate in them each year makes the Ford's Theatre an incredibly fitting venue for the much beloved musical, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reis
"Spelling Bee," is a one act musical conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reis. It is a combination of playful lyrics, audience interaction and improvisation. Each performance is different with a malleable cast of characters that takes four of its members directly from the audience each show.
Although this musical is fun and seems simple to orchestrate, the performers must have great improv, vocal and dance capabilities-which each of these actors possess in spades.
Amidst the ridiculous songs-including one about a young boy's unfortunate "distraction" which causes him to misspell a word and lose-is a thread of human tragedy.
Each character, as absurd as they are, carries a burden that pierces through this comedy of complicated linguistics and competitive children.
Their struggles unite not only the audience to their performances, but each character to one another. A particularly uplifting and touching moment in the musical is when Olive Ostrovsky (played by Carolyn Agan) befriends the ultra competitive and socially awkward William Barfee (pronounced Bar-fay, played by Vishal Vaidya). They struggle with their desire to win, while also wishing their friendship could stay intact.
That is what makes this play so successful: not just that it has the ability to make the audience laugh, but to make them ache with empathy.
All of the actors on the stage are far older than the children that they are playing, but they still make a solid impact on the audience. The struggles that these children go through are shared by all, and are why people can see this production again and again and still leave satisfied.
With a bright set that harkens back with startling clarity to any elementary school auditorium across the country-designed by Court Watson-and brilliant direction by Peter Flynn, this play brings a levity and grounding to the Washington D.C. theater community.
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" will be running at the Ford's Theatre until May 17, 2014. If you need further details spelled out for you, visit www.fords.org.