by Paula Citron.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Directed by James Lapine
Music & Lyrics by William Finn; Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Starring Eric Roediger, Dana Steingold, Roberta Duchak and James Kall
At the Elgin Theatre in Toronto until Feb. 10
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is cute fluff. The surprise Broadway hit began as an improv comedy play and ended up winning two 2005 Tony Awards. The musical follows the fortunes of six misfit elementary students (and four audience volunteers) in their quest to be the top speller.
The contestants are allowed to hear the word used in a sentence by the vice-principal, which is the best part of the show. For example, “Put down the phylacteries, Billy, because we’re Episcopalian”.
Willam Finn’s tunes are bouncy, and his lyrics are quite clever. Unfortunately, word articulation is poor. Rachel Sheinkin’s book, despite its obvious entertainment aspects, doesn’t know what it wants to be as slapstick/absurdist humour collides with satiric/social statement.
At best, Spelling Bee is a fun night out performed by an energetic cast which, after all, isn’t such a bad thing.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues at the Elgin Theatre until Feb. 10.