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25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Spell e-u-d-a-e-m-o-n-i-a. What's the definition? From the Greek, the state of being happy. Please use it in a sentence. Music Box Musicals' production of William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin's 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee put me on cloud nine, where I experienced a definite sense of eudaemonia. So will you. This non-PC musical, a smash hit off-Broadway before it moved up to the big boys' street, is amazingly refreshing: Its theme is rather inconsequential when you come right down to it; sure, it's about winning and losing, but not about winners and losers. Maybe that's why it's so darned appealing. Six middle-school spellers compete "at the bee," augmented by some audience members (who've been chosen earlier in the evening) and the adults: unflappable moderator Rona Lisa Perretti (Kristina Sullivan); vice principal Panch (Luke Wrobel, all scrunched up shoulders and pants pulled up to his armpits), who's in charge of reading the definitions; and Mitch Mahoney (Chioke Coreathers), who's doing community service by helping out with tough-love guidance as he hands out juice boxes to the kids who get eliminated. We get to know the other misfit kids as the musical progresses: precocious little Logainne SchwartzandGrubenniere (Martha Katherine Patton) — she has two dads, you see; Boy Scout Chip Tolentino (Marco Camacho), who gets distracted by a raging erection; flighty Leaf Coneybear (Braden Hunt), who doesn't think he's smart, although he can spell without even thinking about it; William Barfee (Rick Evans), the know-it-all nerd with a mucous membrane disorder who spells with his "magic foot"; Olive Ostrovsky (Cay Taylor), who waits in vain for her dad to arrive and whose mom is off at an ashram in India; and Marcy Park (Beth Lazarou), who speaks six languages, plays Chopin and rugby, never cries and is the classic overachiever. They're all looking for something — acceptance for who they are, for a start — and they all grow up a little under the fresh music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain) and the wickedly sly book by Rachel Sheinkin, who won a 2005 Tony award for Best Book of a Musical. With spirited direction by Michael J. Ross and Adam W. Delka, and swinging musical direction by Glenn Sharp, Music Box Musicals and MJR Theatricals make the most of this minimal little showstopper. Flawlessly performed, this production has a grand heart, a warm soul and a breezy, winning style. You could spell it a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l. Through May 4. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

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1 comments
michaelnicholson2
michaelnicholson2

I went to the production and felt like it was a very well put together and professional show on a number of levels- I'm not into the cram you in seating per se which I had heard forces you to pay attention to the show and other things on a psychological level- maybe I'm wrong about that.  I am more into the Rice Theater type of experience but otherwise the theater group and so on is great.  My problem with Henry V is that it came off to me like the Greek and other productions-maybe Treasure Island at the Alley that I saw when I was going to the theater more.  The long descriptions of events and ideas or information that well that complaint has probably been made already with the early productions by the local critics.  That is the range of what I felt watching this production.   But I guess it's the theatrical production equivalent of the film that is talky and non very visual and hard to follow.  The rain, hanging and drumming where great gimmicks I guess but they weren't linked to the theatrical story I could really follow and didn't do too much for me.  The opposite effect for me would be this kind of effects utilized for the Alley's production of the Lieutenant of Inishmore.    I was just surprised that after the former production from the Alley that was maybe based on the Illiad?- I don't remember it was hard to follow- I just remember the repitiive beat of the drummer for that one- was panned so much that this was so heavily hyped as a masterpiece because I felt it was the same type of production and comparable to the Greek deal. The acting was good but a lot of it reminded me of variations of  D + D players wanting to gain attention playing knights, imitating briish accents and so on. I almost felt like I was at an improv when they go to the old standby of material imitating Shakespherian style acting.  Maybe with a modern classic, nuevo classic or for me great absurdist play I can really enjoy one of their productions at this theater and this production was great on a technical level.  THe Shape of Things production at the Rice Theater is more what grabs my attention.  It was a new idea to me, meaningful on multiple levels, and like a cool modern version of the Twilight Zone.  The acting was excellent for it because the kids picked something that allowed them to be all the better because they were being themselves and that was exactly the right range for the role.  This was not people acting like they were resuming their annual roles for the Rennasence festival, but people nailing characters of their age as they were playing one of their own.   But for me the GREAT Shakesphere I was very lucky to see was the Actors from the Stages prooduction of Othello.  I could follow all of that work well- the study on the many levels of how Jealousy/Envy can affect us and the Othello was incredible.  The performances where rock and roll with drama slowly building so it was the same words but like a new and different play that our top local critic said was the best play he can remember seeing ever.  The way they built the levels of jealousy was amazing.  I remember that the crowd at the great Rice space gave the applause that suggests great solid production way to go.  And then Othello came out and i realized that as good as others were in the sparse production (to emphasize the acting) and competing with the key actor to provide this style of drama that the crowd was saving for him.  They stood and celebrated the guy and he was taken by spontaneous surprise.  He cried, waved and blew kissed in a totally child-like and humble method with no ego attached to it.  Then after this happened I walked back to the end of the lots to not pay for the new and expensive parking and the paved way with the lighted statues and archetecture that seemed to fit for a Shakesphere production had the probably very high IQ Asian students on top of them trying to act bigger and better than you looking down at you like it was part of the performance or like when actors are outside of the building before or after the show.  But the problem is that while yes Othello was must see theater and an amazing night out in general Shakesphere productions that I have seen over years of time and not that often are slow, drag and come off as the Improv acting- The What's My Line ubiquitous imitation of the language.  For this one- Henry V- the play just dragged blah blah blah and I think a lot of that is so much decision making and discussion of events like when the Big Bang Theory guys of my generation were spending hours debating whether they should approach the Elf at the Tavern and board his ship and each making speeches in characters.  The seats/arrangement of the theater and thud of the gimmicky drumming worked to keep me paying- attention- the rain and hanging were well done for a round low budget production that is meant to emphasize the story/acting over the other aspects of the experience.  But I didn't feel the rock and roll elements and meaningful story, the power of an actor forcing me to pay attention like Othello so those gimmicks came off to me as cool and all but gimmicks that I separated from the content of the play. It's great that these actors get their version of work the Rennaisance festival or say shooting guns in Cowboy outfits and the show was very professionally done to the level that with the right edgy, new or classical and rock and roll performance I know I could feel like I've seen a great work at this theater. with something else.  For me, this was not the content.  If you go Shakesphere in a small round setting- it wold probably be something like Hamlet/Othello where you can make so many leveled statements in an in  your face rock and roll way from an actor who becomes the part body and soul not the guy getting to extend his experiences working at the local Rennanance festival.  But thank you Mainstreet people for providing us with your productions and when it isn't another work that reminds me of the Greeks or say another revival of Spelling Bee that I don't want to risk is cute and whatever else- that's a separate review- then I am there and I bet our top critic will really rave about it.  Because that Othello Production at Rice was something to rave about. 

 
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