Posts Tagged ‘contestants’

Hilarious & Irreverent ‘Spelling Bee’

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

One of the opening numbers at the Spelling Bee

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Today at 2 p.m. is the final show of the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a hilarious and irreverant comedy, by the Idyllwild Arts Theatre Department. If the last two shows were any indication, you may want to arrive early so that you can get a seat.

The show centers on a middle school spelling bee in the fictional town of Putnam Valley. We get to learn a lot about its six quirky contestants, including Olive, a latchkey kid whose mother ran off to an ashram, played by Ruby; Logan, a German immigrant with a lisp and two dads, played by Erin; Barfee, an egghead who writes with his feet, played by Shane; Chip, an over stimulated Boy Scout played by Preston; Leaf, a simpleton tree hugger, played by Joey, and Marci, an Asian overachiever, played by Miracle.

Panch, the proctor, played by Devon and Rona the host, played by Paulina, add much of the adult humor and keep this musical comedy rolling along. Throughout the show, keep a close ear to Panch, who offers the words in an NPR-sounding whisper, yet provides raunchy examples when asked to use them in a sentence.

For her part, Rona is host, but she’s still living out her glory days as a spelling bee winner. The author, Rachel Sheinkin, likes to tell many of the back-stories in flashback, with lights, smoke, and characters that appear out of nowhere.

Meeche, played by Becca, is the “comfort counselor,” who is at the spelling bee because of her parole. Like many characters in this play, she’s a stereotype. She’s a macho Mexican gang member, who wears a bandana and leather jacket. She’s the one who ushers the students offstage when they lose. Yet, towards the end of the show, she reveals her tender side, wanting to give the students real life advice–instead of just a hug and a juice box.

Poster as seen on the Idyllwild Arts campus

The best part of the show is the audience participation. While standing in line, several attendees were asked if they wanted to be a “volunteer.”  That meant that they would go up onstage and participate in the spelling bee show.

This added a homespun element to all of the shows, including the one on Saturday, May 22. Among those chosen were students and teachers at Idyllwild Arts, including Macarena, a dancer; Martin, a violinist, and Molly Newman, a composition teacher. Ironically, Molly was eliminated early, while Macarena and Martin stayed on for at least four words.

Like the others in the show, Macarena, who is Mexican, was asked to spell only Mexican words, and Martin, who is from Singapore, was given only easy words, “because he just learned English a few minutes ago.”

Although this show is a farce–and you’ll see some surprises at the end–the author may have gone too far with Asian stereotypes. Marci, the Asian overachieving contestant, speaks six languages, twirls a baton and takes karate, yet only gets three hours of sleep each night.

However, Martin, the Asian volunteer, although cute, looked stupid, while Panch’s definitions for his easy words didn’t fit. It appears that Sheinkin borrowed from the racially insensitive humor of “Long Duk Dong,” an Asian foreign exchange student from “Sixteen Candles,” a 1984 teen movie starring Molly Ringwald. I sat next to a father and a young Asian girl, who didn’t understand any of it. Pity the poor Pop who had to explain things later.

Yet, no one minority group seemed to go unscathed in “Spelling Bee.” For example, Logan, the young German girl, who spoke and sang with a lisp, has two fathers, or a gay couple, as parents. They hover like helicopters throughout the show, pushing Logan to her stress limits.

“Don’t talk to me about stamina, Carl,” one of them quips.

In another scene, they take a picture of Logan to send to her “B.M.,” which is not poop, but an abbreviation for her birth mother, who naturally, lives in a trailer park in Kansas.

Although the contestants were the focus of the show, the parents of Olive (played by Melissa and CD), gave a heart-wrenching duet of their breakup.

No children or adults in the audience can ever spell all the words that the contestants were asked, including strabismus, capybara, boanthropy, phylactery, omphaloskepsis, crepuscule, flagellate and tittup, to name a few.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” won some Emmys on Broadway, including “best book.” To help with the show, the assistant choreographer from the Broadway show came up to Idyllwild for a couple of days to help out with the dance numbers. Brooke, who was a contestant and dance captain in the show, said it was great to have her there. You can see her professional mark on everything, including a slow-motion dance piece.

To add to the authenticity, all the songs, dance tunes and sound effects were played each night by musicians at Idyllwild Arts, including Patrick Doran-Sheeran, the conductor who also played drums; Nelms McKelvain, a piano teacher on piano; Georgina on keyboards; Una on percussion; Shen on clarinet and Monica on cello.

“It’s always a great experience to learn different types of music,” said Una. “It’s great for your resume, and at the end of the show, they give us pizza.”

The final show of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is at 2 p.m. today, Sunday, May 23, at the IAF Theater (in the Bowman building) on the Idyllwild Arts campus. All shows are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.idyllwildarts.org.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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