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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

As Myla Goldberg so eloquently captured in her best selling novel, Bee Season, the contestants in spelling competitions are as peculiar and unpredictable as the letters and meanings of many of the words themselves.

The contestants
The contestants
Photo: Joan Marcus
Inspired by Goldberg's book, Rebecca Feldman's original non-musical version, which debuted with an improv group on NYC's Lower East Side, has now grown into a Tony Award-winning musical and touring success.

The recipe is fun: take six distinctly neurotic geeks, enlist four good-natured audience members (one of whom is a shill), and ask them all to start spelling a series of odd words. In-between competitive moments, delve into each character's idiosyncrasies and insecurities, add a smattering of compulsion and romance explored through song, wrap all this in distinctive costumes, and heat to perfection in an imaginative high school gym with fancy lighting and staging techniques.

As American as a PTA bake sale or a 4th of July parade but significantly more forthcoming, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee wins us over with its homespun feel, comedic characters, and forgiving message.

The adult actors playing the kids are not only convincing, but endearing, and the adults are sufferable, as intended. Audiences of adults and post-puberty adolescents will enjoy the show, though one character's erectile issues are out-of-bounds for younger children.

The music is lively and the lyrics elucidate the interior landscapes, though only one of the tunes—"I Love You", when a contestant's absent mother sings to her from India—has a catchy melody. But this absolutely does not impede the fun. In fact, the momentum of the story is such that it holds up as a one hour and 45 minutes one act.

Denver Center Attractions presentation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through January 28th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows

 

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