Anyone who has experienced the spring chaos leading to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington DC will smile at White Theatre's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

The show earned two 2005 Tony Awards when it reached Broadway. The six main spellers and their three supervisors are archetypes just slightly exaggerated from the real thing. This community theatre production co-directed by Zach Faust and Steven Eubank both cooks and works. The actors have made these characters their own.

As someone who once published daily newspapers, and was a real Spelling Bee sponsor, I can assure you will recall people who are very similar to these characters. To almost everybody involved, it is a big deal.

Rona (Korrie Murphy) is the MC and Putnam County's top realtor whose previous life high water mark was winning the "Bee" a generation ago. Colorless, Vice Principal Panch (Jayson Chandrey) is the tester who returns to the event after a banishment that has required professional help. Scary Parolee and Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney (Bree Paterson) conducts losing contestants from the stage and provides each with a juice box.

The spellers are mostly comic Freudian delights. Leaf (Jaden Tatge) comes to the competition costumed for Comic-Con and wearing a helmet of a type worn by children who try to hurt themselves. William Barfee (Colin Rohach) is that kid who has trouble making friends and compensates by pushing most around him away. Chip Tolentino (Sam Hesman) is last year's Boy Scout winner always in charge until puberty robs him of control. Pigtailed Logainne SchwartzandGrubennierre (Erin Huffman) is the product of a same sex family whose fathers have drummed a false inferiority into her. Marcy Park (Julia Masterson) is the kid who is relentlessly expected and able to do everything well. She intentionally loses the Bee to relieve the pressure. And Olive Ostrovsky (Madelyn Padget) is the latchkey kid whose parents are too busy to pay sufficient attention to her.

Putting personality challenges and family situations aside, "The Putnam County Bee" is light and enjoyable. The directors have done a fine job choreographing the big musical numbers. The voices are good and appropriate. The dances include significant gymnastics stunts thanks to the athletic abilities of the actors. Musical highlights are "Pandemonium" by the company, "I Speak Six Languages" by Marcy, and the touching "I Love You Song" by Olive and her family.

Musical Director Pamela Williamson and her five-piece band are unobtrusive on stage while providing reliable accompaniment. Sets and lighting by Jason Chandley are well done and professional for this purpose.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" continues its run at the White Theatre inside the Jewish Community Center Campus through February 18. Tickets are available at or by telephone at 913-327-8054.

Photo Courtesy of The White Theatre

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From This Author Alan Portner

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