BWW Reviews: SPELLING BEE Cracks Up Audiences at The Box

By: Mar. 30, 2010
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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a hilarious tale of overachievers angst which chronicles the experience of six adolescent outsiders vying for the spelling championship of a lifetime. The show's Tony Award winning creative team has created the unlikeliest of hit musicals about the unlikeliest of heroes: a quirky yet charming cast of outsiders for whom a spelling bee is the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time. I had the opportunity to review the show this weekend at The Box theatre in Mount Clemens, Michigan.

I have seen this show a few times in New York and once in Chicago so when I walked into the 80 seat Box Theatre in Mount Clemens it had the feel of an Off Off Broadway theatre and I wasn't quite sure how this small of a theatre was going to work out. Although the show is normally performed in an intimate theatre I was not quite sure what to expect with this level of intimate. The name of the theatre is definitely appropriate since it is basically a "box" with a small rectangular stage and some stand alone seating. The set design was reminiscent to what I had remembered just on a much lower scale. I thought well at least they tried to decorate it like we were in a gym and I couldn't wait to see how the rest of the show would pan out.

All I can say is that I was blown away by this production of the show. The cast was beyond incredible and the way this production choose to translate the scenes to fit their small theatre was phenomenal. It was strange for me since my normal experience with community theatre is usually just okay, but I never left other theaters wondering if it was better than the larger scale productions I have seen.

The show was directed by Rodel Salazar who did a wonderful job of adapting some of the shows larger numbers to fit the small stage. I couldn't help but wonder how they were going to pull off the song Pandemonium and The I Love You Song since they barley had room for Barfee to spell out a long word with his foot on their stage. I ended up being amazed at the simplicity that was used for these numbers that really worked for the theatre. For instance, during Pandemonium all of the characters trash the entire theatre grabbing bags of popcorn and throwing it around, stealing the flag post and flying it all over the stage, and basically just running around throughout the audience like crazy. The I Love You Song transformed into the dream sequence very easily with the use of a single scarf. The song worked with no smoke, no fuss, no special effects -- just amazing talent and a scarf.

I could probably write volumes about the talent I feel the cast possessed, but I will spare you all that and just say that by far they are the BEST community theatre cast I have seen to date. All of their acting performances were on point and don't get me started on their voices. I can't even pick one actor that I would say stood out because they were all really that good. One thing I will say is that Barfee is one of my favorite characters in the show. I remember after seeing the Chicago production not being happy with the portrayal of the character. In Mount Clemens that was not the case, the part is played by John Forlini and he manages to make the part his own, with a hilarious spin of adolescent snobby confidence. I also loved Ashlee Armstrong as Rona and Dez Walker as Mitch they both have remarkable voices and community theatre is lucky to have them. However, I will say it again the entire cast is beyond amazing.

Obviously by now you can tell that I was overly impressed by this production of the show. Everything from the direction to the cast stood out for me. The only thing I am sad about is that it closes next weekend so I will not have a chance to go back and see it again. I wish I could have reviewed this show sooner so more of you would hopefully read this and have the chance to be amazed like me. If you do get the opportunity I would say run don't walk to go and see this show.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through April 3rd at The Box Theatre located at 70 Macomb Place in Downtown Mount Clemens. Special discounted dinner packages are available at participating Downtown Mount Clemens restaurants, call the box office for more details. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for Seniors and Students. For ticket reservations or more information, call The Box box office at: 586-954-2311.


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