Caroline Russell-King reviews the current production from The Honest Collective — the musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Show: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Playwright/composer: Music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin, conceived by Rebecca Feldman with additional material by Jay Reiss.
Production company/theatre space: The Honest Collective with Pink + White Creative at the Rhyme & Reason Early Learning at the Northland Mall.
Length: One act (one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission).
Genre(s): Musical comedy.
Premise: A collection of loveable, misfit children compete for the spelling-bee prize and we see stories of their home lives in funny and poignant flashbacks.
Why this play? Why now?: From the AD notes: “It’s a story built on passion and filled with heart.” In a city that sometimes produces more theme-laden and educational shows, this IS entertainment.
Curiosities: I wondered why there were blank pages in the program and the cast and crew’s bios were written in four-point font … I wondered how many people would have problems with access to the mall for after hours — none I hope. What will be show #3?
Notable moment: My Unfortunate Erection/Distraction (Chip’s Lament) still my favourite number for audacious, teenage cringe-worthy humour.
Notable writing: Nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two, including best book and the 2005 Drama Desk Award with productions and tours worldwide.
Notable performances: I’ve seen this show done by professionals with older adults and amateurs with big budgets, but this is my favourite so far — a cast with talent, guts and heart.
Notable design/production: Catherine Handford as costume designer (who also worked so hard on Bare, the inaugural production of the Honest Collective) brings integrity to the world of the play.
Notable direction: Kris Mish, who has been mentored well by JP Thibodeau, has picked up his talent for combining direction with lighting design. Gianna Read-Skelton (also with StoryBook Theatre crossover experience having just done musical direction for Matilda) has worked that cast hard. Kudos also to choreographer Liberty Schultz. I hope they got on well and go on to collaborate on more projects.
One reason to see this show: It’s a W-I-N-N-E-R.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs until March 7 at the Northland Mall.
Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here at www.carolinerussellking.com.