Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
February 20, 2015
There are foot-spellers and hand-spellers, whisperers and eye-crossers. Everyone’s got a gimmick in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and they make for a lovable bunch of obsessives in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s new production.
The 2005 musical, with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Shenkin is, for a titular Shakespeare troupe, a long way from the Bard, who couldn’t even seem to spell his own name the same way every time he wrote it.
But for anyone who’s ever been in any kind of elimination competition, this show is irresistible.
It was originally written as a one-act, and that would seem best. This production breaks it up, with a first act that’s non-stop funny, introducing the quirky characters and comic bits, calling up four audience members to join the Bee, and offering hilarious sample sentences to illustrate test words, some of them written by funnyman Geno Carr, who plays the unstable geek of a Vice Principal delivering the words to the high-stress contenders.
The second act takes an unfortunate detour with a maudlin solo about one kid’s absent parents that stops the fun in its tracks. But the rest, including the wild backstories of the other five champ spellers, is consistently amusing and entertaining.
The cast is terrific, with especially uproarious performances by Kevin Hafso-Koppman as the eye-crossing space-case, Leaf Coneybear , and Omri Schein, reprising a role he played at North Coast Rep five years ago: the smartass, nasal-voiced, fleet-footed nutjob William Barfey , um, that’s Barfée . As the host and long-ago bee-winner, Nancy Snow Carr sports a stellar soprano that soars above all.
Each of the solos is well executed and superbly presented, and the group numbers are a hoot, thanks to the direction of Kathy Brombacher and choreography of Jill Gorrie.
Sprightly accompaniment is provided by musical director/pianist Terry O’Donnell and percussionist Daniel Doerfler . Excellent use is made of Intrepid’s new venue, the attractive Performing Arts Center at San Marcos High School.
Any way you spell it, this production is a winner.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee ” runs through March 15, in the Performing Arts Center of San Marcos High School.
©2015 PAT LAUNER