The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee: The characters all have fun with their roles.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Freakish, Friendless, Pushy Parents! The contestants in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are never asked to spell any of this group of words, but they come to mind as the background of the kids and the adults involved in the cutthroat competition are revealed in passing.

Surprisingly, the 2005 musical, with book by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn, won a number of Tony awards when it debuted on Broadway. (It must have been a lean year.) The music is entirely forgettable, although some of the lyrics are effective and the book holds more interest than simply testing spelling ability.

Heavily dependent on the quality of the characterizations by the six finalists and the three officials running the Bee, the inclusion of audience participation (four extra contestants) is more awkward than effective and the general presentation—partly because of the script and partly because of the limited stage space —is somewhat static. However, the members of the cast in the Suzart After Dark production define their characters well and have fun with their roles (despite the occasional stumble over lines).

As directed by Elaine McCausland, the serious undercurrent about dysfunctional families, lonely kids and breaking out comes through clearly. She also makes the most of the very funny lines using the obscure words to be spelled in sentences (that are intentionally of no help to the spellers.)

As well as giving rise to bursts of laughter, script and production offer some touching moments, particularly when two of the group of misfits, Olive (Rachel Duchesneau) and William (Jay Landreville) begin a tentative friendship and over-achiever Marcy (Kathryn McLaren — a noteworthy tap dancer) finds joy in choosing to fail.

Axandre Lemours delivers the appropriate balance between menace and comfort as the counselor (serving a community service sentence) guiding the losing contestants, while Adam Goldberg as the school vice-principal exhibits perfect control in his scripted loss of control.

Finally, a word of congratulations to Suzart Productions on expanding into the first of its Suzart After Dark series.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee played at Live on Elgin to February 20.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Book by Rachel Sheinkin, music and lyrics by William Finn

Additional material by Jay Reiss

Suzart After Dark

Director: Elaine McCausland

Musical director: Catherine Spear

Choreographer: Madeline Busby

Sound: Ben Munro

Lighting: Jeff Schulz

Cast:

Chip Tolentino/Jesus…………………………………………..Kristopher Tharris

Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere……………………………Rachel Rumstein

Leaf Conneybear/Carl Dad…………………………………….Liam Gossom

William Barfée…………………………………………………Jay Landreville

Marcy Park…………………………………………………….Kathryn McLaren

Olive Ostrovsky……………………………………………….Rachel Duchesneau

Rona Lisa Perretti/Olive’s Mom………………………………Tara St. Pierre

Vice-Principal Panch…………………………………………..Adam Goldberg

Mitch Mahoney/Dan Dad/Olive’s Dad………………………..Axandre Lemours


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