Theatre review: Talented cast gives "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" energy, laugh, heart
by Derek Emerson | The Grand Rapids Press Saturday August 15, 2009, 7:28 AM
SAUGATUCK--In a spelling bee there is supposed to be just one champion, but everyone left Mason Street Warehouse's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" feeling like a winner.
This fast paced musical has energy, laughs, and heart, a surefire way to spell success. Set in the school gym the audience watches six young contestants and even four audience members try to spell their way to a $200 savings bond.
The audience participants were good sports, but could not spell the tougher words thrown at them. But the six cast members bring with them not only a love of spelling, but a range of preteen angst representing a range of emotions.
There is the overweight science nerd with a "rare mucus membrane disorder" who spells with his magic foot. The reigning champion and boy scout who is brought down by a hormonal issue right in the middle of the contest. The overachieving girl who speaks six languages, takes over the piano from the band, but "sleeps just three hours per night."
What ties them all together is a love for words, spelling, and their isolation from much of the world. They bring with them their own unique ways of spelling the words. One talks to herself, another writes on her arm, and one claims to not know how to spell until he blurts out letters
as if possessed. But somehow, they all spell.
The humor only slows down as some of the songs hit the heart of the problems. Olive Ostrovsky (Chelsea Morgan) longs to see her mother (Sarah Dacey Charles) return from India since her father (James Earl Jones II) takes his anger at her mother out on her. Their moving and exceptionally well sung "I Love You Song" shows that all these kids really want is to be
loved for who they are.
Therein lays the theme of the show. It is not about winning, but enjoying who you are and whatever you choose to do. The overachieving Marcy Park (Sue-Yenn Ng) celebrates her decision to lose on purpose and enjoy the freedom of not always being the best.
The cast is solid throughout and they shift roles from child to parent effortlessly and smoothly. In addition to the six students you have spelling bee coordinator, the vice principal who reads the words, and Mitch Mahoney, a parolee completing community service as the "comfort counselor,"
handing out hugs and juice boxes to the kids after they are eliminated from the bee.
All of them are strong singers with a good sense of comic timing. Their chorus numbers are full and usually a lot of fun, especially "Pandmonium." Sarah Dacey Charles has a voice which often takes the company numbers to the next level and excels as the adult focus of the musical.
Director Kurt Stamm keeps the one act play moving quickly and the production never lags. This is great theatre which should spell h-i-t for Mason Street Warehouse.
4 OUT OF 4 STARS
Time: 105 minutes with no intermission
See it: 8 p.m Aug. 19-22, 25-29; 7 p.m. on Aug. 16 and 23; 2 p.m.
on Aug. 30 at Mason Street Warehouse, Saugatuck Center for the Arts, 400
Tickets: $25-38 at (269) 857-4898 or mastonstreetwarehouse.tix.com
Since the intense rehearsals and tech days, we have been up and soaring for our shows and no doubt, living the life.
Thanks to the host family who opened their house for us poor actors, I now live in a basement of a beautiful mansion.
9am: Off to the Gym
11am: Lay out in the pool right outside the house (part of mansion)
12pm: Continue falling asleep under the sun or
Explore the beach right behind the mansion that we are living on or
Chat about everything under the sun with the uber friendly hosts or
Yoga Session or
Explore the quaint little town of Saugatuck eating ice-cream.
6pm: Get to the theatre and prepare physically and mentally for the show
8pm: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee starts.
10pm: Chill with cast members either in a bar, a gay club, or on the beach counting stars.
Living the life? Yes.
Makes me dread the ending of Summer.