Growing up dyslexic, the spelling bee wasn’t my most favorite thing in school, however being competitive and very much in love with words, I certainly hold a special place in my heart for bees and bee participants. My bee affinity no doubt plays a part in my total appreciation of the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which, with last week’s production by Sunnyvale Community Players, I have now seen 4 times.
Each time I see this show, I’m surprised to discover something new. I find a new character to embrace and cheer on, a new way to relate to one of the lyrics or because of the wonderful component of improv and audience participation (predetermined by volunteers) I plenty new to laugh at. I also always seem to forget how much heart is at the center of a show that is just so funny.
Spelling Bee is all about celebrating individuality and it does a superb job of applauding differences and not making fun of the marvelously quirky kids (and adults) at the center of the story. The show (and the cast and creative team for this production) do right, by tempering the hilarious and out-there interpretations of these odd cookies if you will, with heartfelt poignant moments of adolescent reality. A lot of emotions, motifs and jokes are packed into this show which runs just 90 minutes or so and no intermission.
Along with the dramatic and comic balance required to succeed with Bee, this show accentuates the individual (giving each actor a veritable show stopper) as well as emphasizes teamwork, requiring the cast to come together as a solid ensemble. This balance is quite difficult to find and I loved the chemistry that this cast had. It was authentic, uninhibited, supportive, talented and allowed everyone their moments to shine. Nearly all the cast had exceptionally strong, versatile voices and every single one of them had well-developed acting chops. This was great teamwork and a fine example of community theatre.
The music is fun and some of it complex and though there were a few songs that could have used some amplification in parts, the strong majority were clear and balanced. I personally don’t like body mics and was very pleased they didn’t use them. From the second row, the note perfect (really tight!) orchestra maintained a consistent and pleasant accompaniment volume, which I also acknowledge as being quite challenging in a space that is neither huge nor classified as intimate.
Not as much was done with some of the dancing in the larger “production numbers” as I’d seen in previous productions, but it didn’t detract at all from the overall production value for me. There were some delightful and effective staging surprises that I hadn’t seen before and quite enjoyed.
Aside from some opening night nerves which sent a handful of notes to the bad place, the harmonies were quite beautiful and the cast’s voices played well with others, everyone blending smoothly with super rich tones. This show will no doubt blossom even more as the run continues and I’m tempted to go back a second time just to see its assured growth.
An endearing 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a witty, sweet and well-crafted production, cleverly staged with a charming and committed cast. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays through November 18th at the Sunnyvale Community Center Theater.
** I always pack a coat as it tends to error on the chilly side in the space.