Sometimes we just need to laugh! Sometime entertainment should just be a diversion from our everyday lives; our stress and anxiety. There is a little musical called “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (for short called Spelling Bee) now onstage at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook that is just what the doctor ordered. A zany, frantic, very funny look at how six overachieving youngsters compete in a spelling bee. Over the years (I think this might be the 6th time I have seen it) I have found this to be a fun evening at the theater. There are no songs that can be hummed on the way out the door ( The title song does come close after several viewings), so it is not the music by William Finn(or his lyrics) that makes this show so funny. Rather, it is the book by Rachel Sheinkin that tells the story about these six kids from different walks of life and different ethnic backgrounds and their relationship with their families and each other, that make this story one that you can relate to.
These young competitors share with us their skills, their emotions, their “coming of age” as they learn that “winning isn’t everything” and that “losing does not make you a loser”. Let’s face it! Haven’t we all had an experience where this has great meaning? The job interview where you were sure you were THE best candidate, only to be told “we have decided to go a different way”! In this case, you may not be the loser, it might be them, as you were the best person for the position! This may be true of a part in a play or in a band oron a sports team. Sometimes the choices people make are not what is best for the “team”.
Directed by Scott Calcagno (who also did the musical staging) with musical direction by Ben Johnson, this is a young energetic cast that will astound you as they bring these six spellers alive. Led by their “leaders” Frances Limoncelli as Ms Peretti (a former champion) and the assistant vice principal Douglas Panch (deftly handled by the amazingly funny Joe Dempsey) and their security guard, on work release,Mitch ( solidly played by Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), we get to watch the stage of Drury Lane become a school gymnasium, complete with electronic scoreboard for this special event. It is strange to be in a high school gym complete with crystal chandeliers, but after all, we are at Drury lane in Oakbrook, aren’t we?
As I said earlier, this is a young cast. Our local theaters seem to attract a great number of sharp young talents. singers, dancers, comics, shining stars on their way up. Eli Branson is a delight as Barfee (the boy who spells with his feet), The adorable Landree Fleming plays Olive Ostrovsky, The hilarious Zack Colonna as “leaf” who is “not smart” but is SMART, the very talented Stephanie Soohyun Park as Marcy Park, who is expected to win all she does, Jordan DeLeon as :Chip” who finds true love and hormones during his attempt to retain his crown as last year’s champ. (you will be very impressed with his second act opening number) and lastly, Carolyn Braver as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (daughter of two fathers), the youngest of the entries. These are the crazy six that will capture your hearts as they continue their quest for the cup and along the way, as we slip into sort of flashbacks, take on other roles.
There is more. Before the show starts in the lobby, there are sign-ups for people who are ready to take on their own challenge and get into it against these actors. Four are chosen and for the most part it does not take long for them to hear the bell, get their juice box and be escorted to their seats. The opening night quartet was a fun group who for the most part were pretty good spellers. While these visitors are led through some of the “schtick”, if they continue to get words right, they get to stay and as it happened, there was one truly great speller (and sport) who played it to the hilt. They did get him, but the ad-libs handled by Joe Dempsey were amazing! I am sure this is not a rare case, as I have always seen the show have at least one top-notch speller.
The set (Jeff Kmiec), sound (Ray Nardelli), lights (Lee Fiskness), props (Nick Heggestad) and costumes (Erika Senases) all add to this being a wonderful two hours plus of solid entertainment. The old ads always used the expression “How Do You Spell “Spelling Bee”? I-r-r-e-s-i-s-t-i-b-l-e!”. Guess what. You can! Young, old, makes no difference, this is one that will make you forget about anything that might be ailing you- a time to laugh out loud (as young texters say L-O-L).
“Spelling Bee” will continue at Drury Lane Theatre, located at 10 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace (just north of the mall) through August 17th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 5 and 8:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m.
Tickets range from $40-$50 ( a small price to pay for entertainment this powerful. there are discounts for Students and Seniors and some special packages for lunch or dinner. To order your tickets visit the box office, call 630-530-0111, Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000 or visit www.drurylane.com
Plenty of free parking as well as valet parking. There is some language in the production, so little ones may grow up a little quicker. To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”.