Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Music and Lyrics by William Finn

At Marriott Theatre
At Marriott Theatre

Book by Rachel Sheinkin

Conceived by Rebecca Feldman

Additional Material by Jay Reiss

Directed & Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell

Music Direction by Doug Peck

At Marriot Theatre in Lincolnshire

Can you spell L-A-U-G-H-S or F-U-N-N-Y? If so them Marriott’s Spelling Bee will be your show

Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire is celebrating 35 years of producing award-winning musical theater with the production of Tony Award-winning super-funny musical The 25th Annual Putnan Country Spelling Bee.

Filled with a superb cast, many of which have played in Spelling Bee before, the show is a laugh fest of the first order. This smart, hip, thoroughly engaging musical is by far the funniest musical to hit the stage in decades. This is a wispy little musical that wins us from the start and keeps us laughing and cheering for our favorite nerd to win the bee.

Roberta Duchak & Michael Weber
Roberta Duchak & Michael Weber

Americans are quite competitive and spelling bees happen across this country often. Who can’t remember getting a gold ribbon for getting 100% on the weekly spelling test? Everyone remembers the word that they missed in the school spelling bee (or the word that won it for them). So a musical about a junior high school spelling bee is a natural.. Especially when it’s populated by three quirky adults and six tweens in the throes of puberty and four random audience members.

Besides the quirky former winner, now MC, Rona Lisa Peretti (Roberta Duchak), Michael Weber drolly plays the word presenter Douglas Panch. the spellers are a nerdy collection of zany tweens. Michael Mahler plays the boy scout Chip Barrington while Derrick Trumbly is the weirdly funny Leaf Coneybear who sings his anthem “I’m Not That Smart.” Eric Roediger is the funny William Barfee who spells out his words with his feet first. Katie Boren is the Asian girl who is tired of always being the best. Heidi Kettenring is the shy and lonely girl who escapes into a dictionary. Kevin Smith Kirkwood is Mitch Mahoney is security enforcer.

This 2 hours laugh feast has a character specific score by William Finn that adaquately move the story along. The fabulous  comedic set-ups featuring the words, their definitions and their use in a sentence together with the quirky personalities of each character make this show an honest and playful romp. Having four audience members try their hands at spelling garnered several laughs especially when one person got an impossible word correct.

The Cast of Spelling Bee
The Cast of Spelling Bee

As the show moves along, we get to love and empathize with each kid. Their quirky spelling rituals and delivery styles produced rich physical humor. These misfits are so human, so like us, that we cheer for each. The bizarre words selected together with the wacky definitions and sentence usage examples by playwright Rachel Sheinkin add to the laughs. The cast seems to be having as much fun as the audience as the connection between them is electric. This is a most audience friendly show. You’ll laugh plenty. Spelling Bee spells H-I-T.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL, call 847-634-0200,, tickets $45, Wednesdays at 1 & 8 pm, Thursday & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 1 & 5 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through July 19, 2009

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