Thursday, June 3, 2010

REVIEW: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in Hong Kong

Fringe Theatre Wednesday June 2

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much (for the right reason) in a community theatre production.

This latest show from the American Community Theatre benefitted from having the right material, the right venue and almost the right cast. The Tony-Award winning musical (music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, tells the story of six idiosyncratic adolescents competing in a spelling bee run by three equally idiosyncratic adults.

The musical is practically an amateur-proof theatre piece. It was “almost” difficult to tell the difference between the naturally awkward kids from the acting awkward kids. A lot of them were believable and even adorable if taken separately. However, as an ensemble, the stylistic interpretations could be more cohesive.

The adults fared better with Samantha Kriegel (playing the hostess Rona Lisa Peretti) and Matthew Gillespie (playing ex-con/comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney) providing some of the best singing and acting in the show. Neil Runcieman (playing Vice Principal Douglas Panch) was effectively dry and wry. Two kids who should receive an "A+" for their performances are Abbey Smith (playing the timid Olive Ostrovsky) and Heidi Mak (playing the over-achiever Marcy Park). Both were able to stay in character throughout the show, not make a caricature out of their role and most importantly, sing.

Remember I said, “practically an amateur-proof theatre piece”? Well, while some kids can hide behind the awkwardness of their character, it was nearly impossible to hide from the music of William Finn. The singing separated the good from the great. After all, it was a musical. Thanks to the over-amplified band, some of the questionable notes were covered up.

Overall, I truly enjoyed the show. It was a show full of humor and full of heart.

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