Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Bay Area Musicals
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Safe House and Richard's reviews of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Baker Street

The Cast
Photo by Ben Krants
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has set up shop at the historical Alcazar Theatre on Geary Street in San Francisco, produced by Bay Area Musicals, affectingly known as BAM. For their second season opener BAM is presenting Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn's kicky musical featuring six energy-driven youngers and three impressive adults. Also, four members from the audience are selected to participate in the onstage spelling bee.

Spelling Bee was nominated for six Tony Awards and won two—Best Book by Rachel Sheinkin and Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Dan Fogler who played Barfee. The musical is set at the mythical Putnam Valley Middle School where six very unusual youth compete in the spelling bee contest. This all takes place in the school gym and is sponsored by local optometrists.

Officiating over the event is Rona Lisa Perretti, a former winner, and Vice Principal Douglas Panch, who beautifully gives out the best lines when the contestants ask for the word to be used in a sentence. Added to the mix is a petty criminal doing community service who escorts the losers off the stage.

Spelling Bee is a strange and quirky glimpse into the world of children's spelling bees. Frankly, it's one of the most hilarious nights I have spent in the theatre this year, thanks to a gifted cast of actors. William Finn, who wrote the music and lyrics, captures the internal agony of the children in such songs as "The I Love You Song," "My Friend, the Dictionary," "The First Goodbye," and my favorite, "My Unfortunate Erection (Chip's Lament)."

Director Mathew McCoy has assembled an energetic cast of outstanding actors. Nick Rodriquez is brilliant as William Barfee, using his "magic foot" method of drawing words on the floor with his foot to help him spell correctly. David Glazer is outstanding as Leaf Coneybear, who was invited to the bee because the winner and first runner-up of his district bee went to the winner's bar mitzvah. He plays the role as an idiosyncratic enchanter.

Alexandra Ortega, who plays Olive Ostrovsky, is impressive, especially when she sings "My Friend, the Dictionary" and "The I Love You Song" with pitch perfect resonance. Antonio Rodriguez III shines as Chip, who finds himself with an erection as he is upfront spelling a word, causing him to lose the spelling bee. Rodriguez has effervescent vocal chops when singing "My Unfortunate Erection." Petite ball of fire Catrina Manahan gives a splendid performance as over-achiever Marcy Park. She is terrific when singing "I Speak Six Languages." Rounding out the group of students is Cecily Schmidt as the lonely Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre whose parents are away. She gives a heartfelt performance when singing "Woe Is Me."

Lavale Davis is imposing as Mitch, a biker doing community service by handing out juice boxes and hugs to the losers. Nicole Frydman, with a glorious singing voice, stands out as Miss Peretti who mediates the tense atmosphere of the bee. She rocks in renditions of "Magic Foot," "My Favorite Moment of the Bee," and "I Speak Six Languages." The entire cast shines while executing Matthew McCoy's exciting choreography. Direction by Matthew McCoy is face paced.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays through December 5th, 2016, at the Alcazar Theatre, 601 Geary Blvd. San Francisco. For tickets call 415-340=2207 or visit Coming next is Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins opening February 18 and running through March 18th.