Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Beverly Creasey

Metro's "Bee" Hums

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

The Metro Stage Company’s production of THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE (playing through June 12th) is much sweeter than the Broadway version. Each time a speller fails, you can hear the Cambridge crowd “ahh-ing” in sympathy with the disappointed student. Of course the students are played, and played impeccably I should add, by adult actors who have you believing they’re kids in a trice.

The other BEEs I’ve seen play up the mean-spiritedness of the officiating adults so that when someone asks to have the word placed in a sentence, the vice-principle offers a thoroughly unhelpful “Look out for the (insert the word here).” Director Robert Case wisely decided to trust his actors to convey the charm and the vulnerability in the script.---and the result is lovely.

.Case gets delightful performances from the whole cast, especially from Josh Pemberton as the odd little speller who zooms about the stage to a different drumbeat and from Amy Strong as the lonely little girl who misses her mother and makes the dictionary a substitute. Audience members get to join the spellers for a bit of sport (translate that into good natured embarrassment) and the volunteers on my night were first rate.

Paula Markowicz has a commanding presence (and gorgeous high notes) as the organizer/ former winner of the BEE. Music director Maria Duaime handles the orchestrations beautifully and gets fine singing from everyone. I’ve never felt that the music in this show merited any trophies but the METRO singers make each song and each lyric count. Chauncy Moore gets laughs as a parolee whose community service brings him to the BEE and Johnny Newcomb makes the love-struck teenager full of heart.

Shawn Gelzleichter is the smarmy vice-principal. Anne Olmstead is the stressed out overachiever. Tiffany Chalothorn is the genius who speaks six languages and Bill Cunningham is the misfit with the “Magic Foot.” The real national Spelling Bee was held yesterday in Washington D.C. If you missed it on the tele, you can catch METRO’s version through next weekend at the Cambridge YMCA.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (4 - 12 June)
@ Durrell Family Theatre, Cambridge YMCA, 820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE MA

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