Saturday, April 03, 2010

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Everyone’s a winner at Beck’s Spelling Bee

How do you spell “f-u-n,” “c-h-a-r-m-i-n-g,” and “a-u-d-i-e-n-c-e p-l-e-a-s-i-n-g?” Easy, ‘THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE,’ now on stage at Beck Center.

The setting: A thirteen-year old standing on stage Saturday night during Beck’s ‘THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE.’ The background: The words already spelled included “syzygy,” “hasenpfeffer,” and “origami.” The plot: What would a competitive sports jock do if he was eliminated on his first spell, like just happened to one of the adult spellers? He stood with anguish on his face. The pronouncer said, “And your word is (dramatic pause) cow.” A smile spread across the boy’s face, but, playing by the rules, he asked, “Can you give me a definition?” Followed up by, “Can you use the word in a sentence.” He paused a second, and with complete confidence stated, “Cow, c-o-w, Cow.” The finale: The audience broke into applause.

The boy? Noah Berko, my grandson, known to many of my readers as one of the “kid reviewers.” He had “volunteered" to be one of the audience participants who came forth to offer their spelling knowledge during the show so he could given an “insiders” view of the production.

The musical is based on ‘C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E,’ an improvisational presentation created by Rebecca Feldman. The script was fleshed into a formatted musical in 2004 with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin. It opened to critical and audience raves off-Broadway in 2004. It was moved to a Broadway theatre in April of 2005 and ran 1136 performances.
The story concerns six young people in the throes of puberty who learn through pain and pleasure that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. These kids are their schools’ nerds, the kids whose lives center on doing odd-ball things, such as winning spelling championships, in their own unique and hysterical ways.

Beck’s production, under the creative direction of Scott Spence, is a total winner. I saw the show off-Broadway and then as a touring production, and this staging is the equal of both. Each member of the cast well fits the physical and psychological image needed. They can all sing, are totally involved in their characterizations, and make the evening speed along with humor and pathos.

Highlight songs were the endearing, “I’m Not That Smart,” the hysterical “Magic Foot,” the confessional “Chip’s Lament,” and the charming, “I Love You Song.”

Larry Goodpaster’s musical direction is excellent and Robin Lee Gallo, who was in the original Broadway cast, duplicates the show’s Big Apple choreography with finesse.

Jude McCormick (Chip), he of Eagle Scout badges and erectile problems, Kelly Smith (Logainne Schwartzandgruvenniere), whose two fathers are proud of her being President of her elementary school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Timothy Allen (Leaf Coneybear) who makes his own outlandish clothes and grasps the entire concept of being ADD and off his meds, Patrick Ciamacco (William Barfee) who spells with his foot, Robin Lee Gallo (Marcy), who insists with rigid body that she isn’t up-tight, and Devon Meddock (Olive) whose mother is searching for her “self” in India, are each f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c in their character developments.

Tricia Bestic as the queen mother of the spelling bee, Jonathan Kronenberger as the pronouncer, and Kyle Primous, as the comfort counselor, play their roles to the hilt.

Trad Burns’ set design, Jenniver Sparano’s costumes and Richard Ingraham’s sound enhance the production.

Oh, Noah, finally went out in the third round when he misspelled a word that isn’t even a word. (Is that any way to treat a little kid?) Playing the role to the hilt, he smiled shyly, pouted and took his token award (a box of fruit juice), and left the stage to the cheers of the audience.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The kid reviewers, all three of them, loved the show and were only upset because they each couldn’t appear on stage. Grandpa, and the entire audience, joined the boys during the curtain call as we screamed our approval. This is a must see, fun filled, evening of theatre.