Arts » Theater + Dance

Review: 25th Annual Putnam Co. Spelling Bee



3 stars

Q: What's the most fun way to define and spell "vulnerability"?

A: An evening at Beef & Boards experiencing the 2011 season opener deftly directed by J.R. Stuart and choreographed by Doug King.

Staged as a cross between Saturday Night Live and Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology, six overachieving teenage misfits representing schools from around Putnam County compete for the trophy and $200. Meanwhile, a shifting number of questionable mature adults flash themselves in and out of past and present and reality and fantasy worlds to present a mosaic of characters whom you carry away, even though their revelatory songs aren't hum-able.

The fast-moving production features among its non-stop "shtick" a show stopping production number covering the gamut from acrobatics to Zen ("I Speak Six Languages"), a touching dysfunctional family portrait ("The I Love You Song"), insightful self-analysis ("I'm Not That Smart" and "Woe is Me"), and a daringly off-color admission ("Chip's Lament").

With updated touches (hand-sanitizing at the top of the show) and references to local events, this decade-old Tony-award winning play blatantly offends and then turns around to make a couple of telling points about winning or losing, fitting in or being on the fringe, meanness and compassion. In the end, you recognize this testosterone, angst-ridden interlude of pandemonium serves up an insightful slice of life. Bravo to the 3-piece combo, scenic, light, sound and costume designers, and the audience members willing to join the zany antics on-stage.

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre through Jan. 30.


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