Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

02/06/2016

'25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' blends adolescent pathos with hilarious fun

By HOLLY JOHNSON // The fine production at Broadway Rose in Tigard, directed by Annie Kaiser, pulls out all the stops without overdoing it as it unfurls the tale of six young people who would win a county spelling prize.

It’s hard enough dealing with the pressures of adolescence under normal circumstances. But in the hilarious musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” high-schoolers spelling under duress in a tightly competitive atmosphere suffer even more.

The fine production at Broadway Rose in Tigard, directed by Annie Kaiser, pulls out all the stops without overdoing it as it unfurls the tale of six young people who would win a county spelling prize. Although not exactly memorable, the tunes are fun and burgeoning with humorous lyrics. One poor chap even sings a ballad of lament when his continual erection flusters him, and he is disqualified. Behind each kid participating in the Bee there’s a story, which adds substance and pathos to the show. There are even a few adult audience members that get up on the stage as would-be spelling champs.

In the song “I Speak Six Languages” performed by petite Marcy Parks (the delightful Audrey Voon), a teen who wins every contest she attempts-- and triumphs over every academic challenge-- confesses just once she would like to lose.

Then there’s Olive Ostrovsky, whose mother is in an Indian ashram and whose father is too busy to come hear her spell. Danielle Purdy sketches her as reticent but likable, pitiable but charming, as she exults in the song “My Friend the Dictionary,” a book she’s virtually memorized and a relationship that never lets her down (“The words in the dictionary are the friends I’ll have forever”). Purdy has a powerful voice, which builds in volume and complexity as the show unfolds. Troy Pennington plays the true eccentric of the lot—the geeky William Morris Barfee who spells words out with his feet. Kudos go to Brian Demar Jones and his fluid, powerful delivery of songs throughout, and to Amy Jo Halliday as the contest’s long-suffering master of ceremonies.

The only complaint is the first number, named after the title of the show, seems long-winded. But the off-stage band directed by Jeffrey Childs rocks the house. Dan Murphy’s choreography is funny and inventive. The musical runs one hour and 40 minutes without intermission, and is suitable for kids 13 and up. The show runs through Feb. 28 with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees, 7:30 p.m. evening shows Thursday through Saturday at the Broadway Rose New Stage in Tigard at 12850 S.W. Grant Ave. Broadway Rose tickets and information, phone is 503-620-5262.

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