BWW Review: Sierra Madre Has a Summer Hit with SPELLING BEE

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee/book by Rachel Sheinkin/ music & lyrics by William Finn/directed by Robert Marra/Sierra Madre Playhouse/through August 21

Talk about quirkiness and how it makes a musical rock! The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is terribly funny in a smart, slick, offbeat manner with prize worthy characterizations of lively eclectic people.It may be a tad long like the actual spelling out of words (that are not to be believed!)yet the exaggeration and contestants' varied reactions give rise to some great comic moments...and I love the audience involvement! Some of the contestants are picked from the audience and their ad-libs lend one.of.a.kind hilarity. The unpredictability in denouement is another big plus in the overall enjoyment of the show. It's like a real contest. Who will win is anybody's guess!

With games and TV reality competitions such as American Idol, Dance Moms and others being so popular, we enjoy seeing the average person...and particularly the underdog, take the spotlight. Teens are always fun to watch, especially those from diverse backgrounds who yearn for some recognition in their lives. I remember in particular my Class Day experience, expecting to win a scholarship. It never happened. The faculty person responsible forgot to bring it to include in the program, and so it was left off. I got it the following week, but this was Class Day, and my name was not announced. No recognition in front of my peers and everyone in attendance! I was so disappointed. I felt stupid and unappreciated. It's something you get over as the years go by, but as a teenager, it means so very much.

In the case of Marcy Park (Joy Regullano) the competitiveness is fierce "she's all business"; with Olive Ostrovsky (Cristina Gerla), it's a parental/love issue that is so vital for her well-being, and for William "Magic Foot" Barfee (Stanton Kane Morales)... to overcome a handicap and simply stand apart in a positive way. Even the adult judges are not without their issues, like Rona Lisa Peretti (Gina D'Acciaro), a former contest winner, who has some pretty intense feelings about the contest and Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Richard Van Slyke), who has never made it to Principal, but would like to...

Under Robert Marra's skilled, exuberant and fluid direction, this cast are miraculously focused and funny. The aforementioned all shine, as do Hannah Leventhal as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, Robert Michael Parkison as the totally hyper and one.of.a.kind Coneybear, and Joey Acuna Jr. as Chip Tolentino with the hilariously pesky "Unfortunate Erection". They make an unforgettable team. D'Acciaro as MC Rona Peretti sings beautifully and Slyke as Vice Principal Panch is about as stern as they come. Jaq Galliano completes the terrific ensemble as Mitch Mahoney whose streetwise smarts and hugs sure go a long way to make an unpleasant exit smooth.

William Finn's music is up, bright and pleasing with "The I Love You Song" the most memorably lilting and meaningful. Joe Lawrence's musical direction and director Marra's choreography are top-notch. Jeff Cason's set design of the school gym is spot.on.

I have seen this show many times, and I try each time to come away with something new. This time I was most attracted to the ending where Barfee teams up with Olive (switch the first and third letters and you come up with "I love"). It's always nice to witness life changing for the better. Sometimes all it takes is one new friendship, odd but good, as ...Spelling Bee clearly illustrates.

We can all relate to at least one of these kids in their awkward moments of competition. We all had problems. We were either too shy or too overly confident for our own good. So, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a meaningfully addictive entertainment. Rachel Sheinkin's portraits of the individual characters are so well drawn and this cast so fine in replicating them onstage that we can certainly laugh...aplenty!

(photo credit: John Dlugolecki)

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From This Author Don Grigware

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