Laughing At The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

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The Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Drury Lane Theatre provided us with tickets to this performance to facilitate this review.  All opinions are my own.

Theatre is one thing I will probably never find fault with in any way.  A live performance is as good as it gets.  While drama is great, I love improv comedy more.  So when I heard the word musical and improv together in the same night I was ready to sign my name to whatever was necessary.  Ok, so there was no signing involved or any shady dealings, but I did get to see the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  A musical comedy that allows audience members to participate along side the cast.  Sure you might have to suspend your disbelief slightly to imagine all those volunteers are in elementary school, but that only adds to the charm.

As you sit down even before the show the stage is ready for you.  The janitor is busy preparing the gymnasium for the spelling bee industriously buffing the floor clean.  He slowly sets out the necessary tables and chairs.  This means even if you sit down earlier you can be entertained sure a janitor might not be talking but he will definitely give you something to anticipate.  Especially as he uses his broom to hit the clock on the scoreboard and it starts counting down from 30.5 seconds.  An extra useful device to show you how much time you have to scramble back from talking to friends and back to your seat.

Ms. Peretti giving clues The spellers and faculty are a quirky cast of characters.  From the Mr. Barffee (pronounced Bar-fae) with his magic foot to the not so stereotypical Asian competitor, Marcy Park, who does speak many languages but is not all business, thank you very much.  With names like Leaf Coneybear and Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre you know you’re in for a stomach cramp from all the laughing in store.   The humor hits hard when the contestants complain about how easy the volunteers’ words are,  because certainly those are not all level 1.  Yet, one of my favorite moments was when a volunteer had to spell the word ‘cow’ and asked for the allowed hints.

Can you give me a definition?

Yes, a cow.

Can you use it in a sentence please?

Please spell cow.

Leaf Coneybear taking a turn With direct lines it’s hard for the the person on stage to keep a straight face, but luckily in the audience no one is quiet enough to see you sputtering in full bodied guffaws.  The volunteers did excellent on their own responding to cues and trying to be clever which ended up with some of them getting barbed exchanges such as the above cow example.  One of the better parts was watching as before intermission that wanted to knock out all the volunteer spellers and one of them did quite well.  He was called up a few times in a row completely random according to the cast.  He managed to spell catterjunes correctly which only had one written mention and yet he spelled it correctly.  Which landed him what seemed to be some sort of cockney slang with more syllables that seemed to hide five or six letters in the jumble.

William Barffee using his magic foot technique After all the volunteers were eliminated, the focus turned more towards the spellers and why they chose to spell.  What kind of lives they led and why they did or didn’t want to win the bee.  Each song will leave you in stitches and I recommend emptying your bladder before sitting down.  I’m not saying you have a weak bladder, but better to not risk it.  You will enjoy this if you enjoy slice of life as much as I do when you get a great glimpse at each character and their motivations.  At the end you will be rooting for your favorite characters and sadly mine did not win, but you will be satisfied with the epilogue provided for each character.  Although, it is hard not to root for all of them to win as they earnestly spell their hearts out.

There is something else to note.  There are mature and non-mature versions of this show, so you’ll want to check that if you are bringing your kids that you are comfortable with the content.  I’m not saying they wouldn’t laugh along with everyone even without knowing some of the words, but there was an entire song about an erection being the reason one of the contestants was outed.  I’m glad I brought someone along who could appreciate that type of comedy rather than squirming in discomfort.

William Barffee singing a delightful musical number about the power of his magic foot I don’t want to spoil the victory for you, but I know you will enjoy the characters especially with the attention given to their costumes.  You’d find it difficult to think that the cast is not the age they are pretending to be.  You will probably have the same issue as Ms. Peretti finding only one favorite moment of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

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