The Paramount Theater
Runs through 1/14
Tickets Online or by Phone: 206-292-ARTS (2787)
If you've seen Spellbound, then you know the extreme stress and intense competition of spelling bees. But what if the spellers were suddenly to break into song? Then you'd have William Finn's (with Rachel Sheinkin and Rebecca Feldman) The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. With a cast of children ranging from chronically congested to chronically arrogant, Spelling Bee, brings out the best and worst in all of the competitors. This show is so much more than spelling words; each word and the bee itself has such powerful significance in each of the childrens' lives - very poignantly illustrating their growth within as people. The emotional rollercoaster of this show takes the audience for a ride in which everyone can relate to many of the unscheduled stops.
However, this show sticks vehemently to no script. Though it is mostly scripted, there is enough ad libbing to keep any improv artist working for days. Every night is a different show with different audience members spelling along side the actors, some even outshining the dictionary itself!
On stage, there are no weak links in this ensemble production. Each character's arc comes through loud and clear to each audience member, occasionally, directly to some audience member or another. Lauren Worsham's work as Olive Ostrovsky brings forth such emotion as the shy, trusting individual that her character embraces that she elicits from the audience the utmost sympathy. Meanwhile, Alan H. Green's performance as Mitch Mahoney the Comfort counselor brought a sense of true enjoyment in doing his work as a performer. One can easily see that he has a lot of fun with this role and especially with the music, allowing the audience to have as much fun as he does.
(from left to right, top to bottom: Sarah Stiles, Miguel Cervantes, Eric Petersen, Katie Boren, Michael Zahler, Lauren Worsham.) Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
James Lapine's directing, as is to be anticipated, is incredible. The subtleties and minutiae of his direction allows the characters to be as real as any person in the audience and yet as pristine and pointed as Jean Valjean's soliloquies. He is supported, of course, by an orchestra led by such a conductor that the orchestra is a second show itself. Jodie Moore's tireless conducting and playing are a feat to be envied by any musician.
Seeing this show is not simply watching players on stage, but experiencing with them the trials with which they struggle and the feats that they must accomplish to live up to expectation, or in some cases, not. The roulette of audience participation adds a great deal to this show and the actors onstage carry the weight of the ad-libbing and their roles with panache. This show is definitely a worthwhile one to espy.
Review By: Nigel Andrews and Jack Jarden