Thursday, February 27, 2014

Enjoyable "Spelling Bee" at Seattle Musical Theatre

Evan Woltz (front) as William Barfee (photo credit unknown)

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

A good cast amps up the fun in Seattle Musical Theatre’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is a fond and funny look at the tweenage participants in the one event that gets national attention for nerds.

Bee is a relatively simple show and allows for the focus to stay on the jokes and songs and character development. A pair of adults, here Tadd Morgan and Lindsey Larson as the ascerbic vice principal and amiable teacher, run the spelling bee. One really different aspect to this musical is that three audience members are pulled up to spell with the “kids.” That amps up the fun, too.

As each “child” is asked to spell, facts are given to the audience about them so we get a chance to know more about them as the production goes on. Also, each child gets a chance to shine in a song about his or her life. So Brad Walker plays Chip Tolentino who is mooning over another kid’s sister and gets one of the funniest songs in the musical, My Unfortunate Erection. Chelsea LeValley plays Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere who has two very helicopterish dads and a lisp. Nik Hagen plays homeschooled Leaf Coneybear who isn’t even sure he’s smart.

Evan Woltz plays William Barfee who has a magic foot that helps him spell (a song about the foot is usually a big crowd pleaser). Woltz was confined to a wheelchair with an injury, but it worked for his character amazingly well! Every show should have a wheelchair from now on! This is one production where a geek in a wheelchair even works better!

Melissa Fleming does a terrific job as Marcy Park, an Asian-American girl who resents how perfect everyone expects her to be. Fleming also has one of the best voices in the show. Kelsey Hull adorably plays Olive Ostrovsky whose parents are the opposite of helicopter – her mother is somewhere in India and her father is missing the Bee due to work.

Isaiah Parker does a nice job in the difficult role of Mitch, a “comfort counselor” who is court-ordered to help out at the Bee, and also performs as one of Logainne’s dads. Often, this role goes to an African-American though it doesn’t seem like it must be. It is an unfortunate reflection of the overabundance of young black men who are embroiled in our justice system. Besides the Asian girl, there is not much diversity called for in the musical, unless blind casting is used. Here, the unforeseen use of a wheelchair made more diversity where not much is often used.

While the production was generally well directed by Matt Giles, and likely he also choreographed the small amounts of movement involved which were also nicely done, he had a tendency to make his actors overamp the comedy and the stereotyping. That detracted a bit from the funny bits, especially the over-acting of the “dads.” They are already clearly homosexual if they are two dads. They don’t need to then also use stereotypical movements on top.