BWW Reviews: SPELLING BEE at SMT Embraces the Charming Flaws in Us All
One of the things I love about William Finn's shows is that he draws such rich and flawed characters which makes them all the more real and relatable. This is extremely true in his most popular work, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee", currently playing at Seattle Musical Theatre, where the kids of the Bee, as well as the adults, work through their own idiosyncrasies. But the lovely thing about the show is that since the subjects are children, they don't deny their flaws but embrace them as a part of themselves and use them to their advantage. And the cast and crew of the SMT production recognize that and never poke fun of the characters but embrace and love them as well and that's what makes this show an absolute joy.
The kids in the Bee are quite varied. There's the former champ and good boy Chip (Brad Walker), the socially conscious Logan (Chelsea LeValley), the lovable misfit Leaf (Nik Hagen), the odd and overly confident William (Evan Woltz), the uber-perfect Marcy (Melissa Fleming) and the sweet but troubled Olive (Kelsey Hull). Each of them manages to go far beyond their own archetypes to show what kind of adults they might become. And then there's the adults, Bee moderators Rona and Douglas (Lindsey Larson and Tadd Morgan) who have just as many issues (if not more) as the kids and comfort counselor Mitch (Isaiah Parker) who's trying to work off his community service. But as straight forward and pat as these characters may sound, the show, through flashbacks and dream sequences, shows off so much more of the lives and hopes of these everyday people and gives the audience a thoroughly beautiful and charming journey largely due to the book by Rachel Sheinkin and Finn's music and lyrics. Oh and the kids (and a few audience members) also spell some words to hilarious result.
As I said, the show works when it embraces the flaws and director Matt Giles and his cast seem to have no problem with that. Walker is hilarious as the good boy with a growing problem and completely sells his big number (pun intended). Woltz too sells his big production number with zeal even through an injury that they have worked into the character. Fleming takes on the mantle of the perfect little girl making her breakout at the end all the more enjoyable. LeValley couldn't be cuter as the stalwart little activist. Morgan takes on his duties as moderator and word pronouncer to wonderfully funny ends. And Hagen with his incredibly expressive face could not be more adorable as the dreamer Leaf.
But for me the heart of the show comes from the sweet Olive and specifically the "I Love You" song between her and her parents and Hull along with Larson and Parker in some dual roles completely nail the emotion and tragic beauty of the piece. The performers and music director Justin Beal manage the perfect build for the number almost turning it into a play unto itself.
The show itself has become kind of a staple with theaters since it's relatively easy to produce but I would argue it's not always easy to get right. And Seattle Musical Theatre has gotten it right. With my three letter rating system, I would spell this show, Y-A-Y.
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" performs at Seattle Musical Theatre through February 23rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlemusicaltheatre.org.