Reviewed by Claudia Perry
Hurray for the small but mighty little musical with the long moniker, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" currently at the DuPont Theatre, at the luxurious Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware. With perky, funny, music and lyrics by the prolific William Finn, and a book (script) by Rachel Sheinkin that's a hoot, this nine character musical is a sheer delight. Originally playing Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in 2005, it moved to Broadway and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two, one for best book.
The "Bee" is centered on six geeky teenagers engaged in a smack down spelling bee at the Putnam Middle School and the three equally odd grownups running it. This two hour show without an intermission uses four lucky members of the audience to participate alongside the six young characters in the bee. Based on C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E an original improvisational play by Rachel Feldman and performed by The Farm, a New York based improvisational comedy troupe, the Official Pronouncer is usually played by an improv comedian.
Nikki Switzer is especially terrific as Rona Lisa Peretti, the teacher hosting the spelling bee. With her sweet voice and cheery personality, she embodies the epitome of the enthusiastic educator. By contrast Anthony Lopez is hysterical as the taciturn, uptight and slightly creepy Vice Principal, Douglas Panch, the Official Pronouncer of the bee. Christian Busath is larger than life as William Barfee, that's pronounced BarfŽ, as William so readily reminds us. His over confident braggadocio belies a tender heart in his dealings with the tiny, pretty, neglected Olive Ostrovsky, nimbly played by Brittany Ross. Joanna Krupnik employs a lulu of a lisp to add to the nerdiness of her character, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre. Yes, even the list of characters is amusing.
The choreography which at times entails the spinning of a slanted stand of bleachers is simple yet shrewdly silly. And the scenic, lighting and costume design all work together like a well oiled machine. The beauty of this piece is that everyone has their comic turn, even the audience members who are cleverly set up by the rest of the cast. And when an audience member surprises us all and actually knows how to spell one of the harder words they are given, a good time is had by all. For anyone who loves words even a little, this is a dictionary lover's delight.
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