Monday, February 8, 2016

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR


This musical was conceived by Rebecca Feldman, is written by Rachel Sheinkin with music and lyrics by William Finn and additional material by Jay Reiss.  It is directed by Annie Kaiser, musical direction by Jeffrey Childs and choreography by Dan Murphy (Founder/General Manager of B/R).  It is playing at their space, 12850 SW Grant Ave. in Tigard, through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-620-5262.

I’m sure we could all think of themes/ideas for a play or book or musical.  But who, in one’s vast imagination would have ever thought of one about a Spelling Bee?!  You’re kidding, I’m sure must have been a response of producers.  But, you know, it works.  I suppose, if you look at any event, you have to admit it is made up of people.  And, in people, there are stories.  And so it is here…

I have to admit I am the world’s worst speller and couldn’t have spelled most of the words these characters came across.  Mostly, I suppose, we have trouble with spelling because words don’t often spell like they sound.  It may be the same way with people…they don’t often act like they look or behave outwardly.  And so we are introduced to this band of misfit kids and are ask to identify with them.

There is Olive (Danielle Purdy) who is shy, awkward, introverted, and a loner.  But you discover she does have feelings, is pretty smart, has a mother who seems to have abandoned her and really just doesn’t have anybody to confide in.  Barfée (Troy Pennington) is overweight, very smart, arrogant, has medical problems and has no friends.  But he is really just self-conscience, lacks social skills and is interested in science.  Chip (Alexander Salazar) is a Boy Scout, an outsider, has trouble adjusting to puberty and is also pretty much a loner.  But inwardly he just needs a friend and someone to guide him through this awkward stage.

Logainne (Catherine Olson) is also at an awkward transition for a young person, as she is Gay and a political activist, and has two fathers, which seems to set her apart from the mainstream of young people.  But, inwardly, she just wants to be loved for herself, stripping away the veneer, where she is just as vulnerable as anyone else.  Marcy (Audrey Voon) is a good Catholic girl, speaks six languages, loves music and athletics, very smart and is an over-achiever.  And, because of that, she really doesn’t fit into any social circles.  And poor Leaf (David Swadis), with his starched hair-do and his super-hero attire, a nerd who just doesn’t seem to fit in with anybody and yet, that’s exactly what he desires, to be a part of a group.

Then there is also Rona (Amy Jo Halliday), a past winner and moderator of this enterprise.  There is no doubt about it, she runs the show.  Panch (Lyle Bjorn Aranson) is the voice of the contest, giving out definitions and usages to the entrees.  He is also a bit of a prig and sweet on Rona.  And Mitch (Brian Demar Jones) is a comfort counselor and gives solace to those who lose.  He is also doing this as his community service, as he is part of the prison system.

All these characters have their stories to tell and to reveal much more would be giving discoveries away that the audience should glean.  But know there is more than one winner, depending on how you define “winning.”  And the songs are super.  My favorites were “Pandemonium,” w/Leaf & Co., “Magic Foot” w/Barfée, “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” w/Mitch & Co., “Chip’s Lament,” “Woe Is Me,” w/Logainne & Co., “I Speak Six Languages” w/Marcy and “The I Love You Song” w/Olive & Co.  They are all powerful singers and certainly add to the success of the show.

Kaiser has done well, balancing the show with quieter times and then letting other moments explode.  The costumes (designer, Brynne Oster-Bainnson) help immeasurably in defining the characters.  The dances, by Murphy, are simple but effective.  And Childs and his band complement the show without overpowering the actors.

The acting by all is very specific and you feel for them, their characters.  Purdy is always worth watching in a show and she excels here, too.  Halliday and Jones have, perhaps, the most powerful voices in the show and are put to good use here.  Arnason has some of the funniest lines with his definitions and usages and has a great comic timing when delivering them.  Pennington touchingly presents an unsympathetic character in a sympathetic way.

Salazar is good at presenting a boy at an awkward age, something we can all identify with, I’m sure.  Voon is spot on in playing that oh-so-perfect person outwardly but is empty inwardly.  Olson’s character is so annoying at times that you want to ignore her until you see her vulnerable side and then you want to hug her.  And Swadis plays the nerd to a tee, someone we all knew (or were) in our youth.

I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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