Note: this review was posted on the KC Stage review system.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, conceived by Rebecca Feldman, book by Rachel Sheinkin, music & lyrics by William Finn, and additional material by Ray Reiss; directed by Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert. Produced by the Olathe Community Theatre Association. First produced 2004. (Seen May 7, 2011.)
Last July, I got to review the American Heartland Theatre’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee — and I was pleasantly surprised, enjoying the production far more than I thought I would. When OCTA announced the show as part of their season, I was excited, wanting to see it again — and curious as to how OCTA would handle this show that surprised me so much.
I really wanted to try not to let my love of the Heartland’s production influence my viewing it this time. There are obvious differences in budget and resources between American Heartland and OCTA, and I didn’t want to compare the two any more than I try to compare books to movie versions.
For the most part, the production holds its own. Samantha Barboza is the best of the actors as Rona Lisa Peretti, her voice clear and powerful yet still sweet. The casting of Jay Martinez as Mitch Mahoney was a great choice, and the actors playing the children all did a good job of portraying children. And the topical humor was top-notch, especially when Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (played by Leah Swank-Miller) goes off on a much-needed rant about Charlie Sheen.
Some of the songs don’t quite pop the way they need to (“Magic Foot”, sung by Doug Dresslaer, and “Chip’s Lament”, sung by Steven James, being the two that could have been so much better, especially considering how the two actors are in the rest of the show). But “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor”, sung by Martinez, and “The I Love You Song”, sung by Alana Marie Henderson (along with two others) are excellently done, the first with a lot of humor and the second with a lot of angst. And for the most part, the dancing was way too busy with too much action going on.
The biggest problem was a continual issue with sound. The mics were going on and off throughout the production, and the music overwhelmed the singing several times throughout the show. There were too many times that it was hard to understand the actors singing, and it wasn’t always a mic issue, but a diction and projection issue. (In fact, this was a big issue in “Chip’s Lament”, as I could barely understand almost all of the song.)
For a community theatre production, however, it was pretty decent, and I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw. The energy and singing (when I could understand it) was great, and the actors all did a good job with their characters. For $15 a ticket, it’s worth the trip out to Olathe to see this fun production.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is playing at the Olathe Community Theatre Association until May 22, and more information can be found at www.olathetheatre.org.