- Photo by Jim Coates.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Keegan Theatre
The winning word for 13-year-old Scripps Spelling Bee champ Sukanya Roy this year was “cymotrichous,” meaning wavy hair. But it's unlikely that her competitors, unlike those of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, shouted "Goddammit!" when she spelled the word correctly. But the prodigious tykes of the Keegan Theatre's new musical are of a different stock.
There's Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Shayna Blass), who is terrified of disappointing her ultra-competitive gay dads. Marcy Park (Tina Ghandchilar) speaks six languages. Chip Tolentino (Christopher Mueller), last year's champion, is battling the embarrassing first stirrings of puberty. William Barfee (Dan Sonntag) – it's pronounced "Bar-fay," he reminds us – spells words with the help of his "magic foot." Olive Ostrovsky (Madeline Botteri) wishes her mom would come back from her ashram. And Leaf Coneybear (Michael Innocenti) is just a space cadet. There's also the four audience volunteers who are willing to subject themselves to the actors' ad-libs about their appearance and the potential humiliation of having to spell difficult words in front of the audience (but also, the momentary surprise from the cast when they actually spell a difficult word correctly). As they compete against each other for the grand prize, we learn more about the difficulties of being an overachieving kid through flashbacks to their bee-prep at home with parents.
Keegan's Spelling Bee is a little more disorganized than the song "Pandemonium" suggests. The choreography is imprecise, and it can be difficult to make out some of the jokes because of actors talking over each other, or not enunciating (crucial for a spelling bee especially!). But the best jokes, which are usually in the speller's request to use the word in a sentence, come through loud and clear. For the word "Mexican": "Guacamole, the Mexican pudding." For "Fandango," the lyrics of "Bohemian Rhapsody": "I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?" RaMond Thomas is underused as Mitch Mahoney, the gang-symbol flashing "comfort counselor" for the losing children, a duty he must perform as part of his community service on probation. Sonntag, as Barfee, proves his character's magic foot to be especially adept – he's the best dancer in the cast. And even if the words that these kids spell aren't as tough as the ones that Sukanya Roy faced this week, that's ok – the words they use are more of the four-letter variety, anyway.