Take a few awkward adolescents, put them in a competition moderated by awkward adults, toss some words (or some formulation of one) at them, and you’ve got a spelling bee. Now make the story into a show, add some talented performers, knock in some song and dance, some adolescent issues, and we find some fun, tongue-in-cheek amusement.
Based on the novel by Rachel Sheinkin and originally adapted on Broadway by James Lapine, THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is funny and smart. The performers were wonderful and really owned their roles. Olive (Caitlin Houlahan) is a kind, lonely soul; Leaf Coneybear (Ryan Breslin) is eccentric and underestimated, Logianne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Katie Lander) tries to please her adoptive gay fathers who expect success, William Barfee’ <BARFAY> (Paul Pilcz) is overtly overconfident to hide his fears, Chip Tolentino (George Salazar) is kind but can be knocked down by the sight of a pretty girl, and Marcy Park (Sumi Yu) is excellent at everything she tries but may not want to be.
The youth vie for the title in the annual spelling bee and we watch their hopes, dreams, and thoughts unravel before us. The adults have stories of their own: Rona Lisa Peretti (Becca Ayers) is a former spelling bee champion who remembers the “rush” of the win, Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Colin Hanlon) advises students with meanings, uses, and origins of their sentences while revealing his own stress, and of course Mitch Maloney (Maurice Murphy) the “comfort counselor” fresh out of prison on community service to help the children deal with their stress and losses with a hug and juice box.
Director Jessica Stone had a fine assortment of talent for this show. She highlighted the best of the brightest. Conner Gallagher (choreographer) brought the scenes to life. The entire show impressed with ingenious ways to show big concepts in a seemingly small or subtle way. The audience was brought into the show figuratively and literally (sign up at the door for a chance to be a part of the Spelling Bee!) The music and set were key to the show and were tremendously important to the story.[Bucks County Playhouse, New Hope] August 14–September 13, 2015. bcptheater.org.