Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre opened its 2011 season with the Tony-award-winning musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The title is a mouthful and so are many of the words the actors must spell, but the mood is playful.
The story follows a handful of middle school students who have made it to the county spelling bee. All of the “students” are played by adults which adds an extra layer of absurd humor. The premise is reminiscent of the movie Best in Show, but instead of poking gentle fun at dog shows, spelling bees are the target. Like the film, Spelling Bee is incredibly funny, but contains some adult humor.
The six main spellers include the politically correct Logainne Schwarzandgrubenierre, timid Olive Ostrovsky, perfectionist Marcy Park, obnoxious William Barfee, boyscout Chip Tolentino and free-spirited Leaf Coneybear. Four volunteer audience members are also chosen at each show to become part of the competition.
Seth A. Tucker provided my favorite performance of the night as Leaf, a gentle hippie with a great imagination. He’s convinced he’s not very smart, but remains perfectly content to share the stage with his ambitious competitors. Tiana Checchia was also a sweet delight as Olive, a soft-spoken girl who considers the dictionary to be among her best friends. Her shy, earnest nature encourages the confident Barfee to question the importance of always coming out on top.
I was thrilled to see Paul Hansen as Vice Principal Panch. This is his first performance at Beef & Boards, but I loved seeing him in a few recent Indianapolis Civic Theatre productions, including “Bus Stop.” He delivered his lines with the perfect comedic timing, especially when providing the spellers with sentence examples for each of their words.
I enjoyed seeing a few B&B’s regulars, like Jayson Elliott, Sarah Hund, Dominic Sheahan-Stahl and Licia Watson in very different roles. Each one embraces their character, quirks and all, providing hilariously awkward moments for the audience’s delight (poor Chip!). The show’s success lies in the strength and chemistry of its many characters. Even the role of “comfort counselor” becomes noteworthy in the hands of the gruff, but loveable DaRon Lamar Williams. The audience finds itself laughing with, not at, these preteens in the midst of all the horrors and insecurities of puberty. We are rooting for them and it’s easy to forget they’re not really kids.
Don't Miss the Show
Performances: The show runs until Jan. 30. Doors open for evening performances at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The buffet is served from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. For Wednesday matinees doors open at 11:30 a.m. and the buffet is served from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The show begins at 1 p.m. For Sunday matinees doors open at 12 p.m. and the buffet is served from 12:15 to 1 p.m. The show begins at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets: To purchase tickets call (317) 872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Prices range from $35 to $58 and include the show, tax, coffee, tea and the buffet. This production offers discounts; call the box office for more details.
Photos Courtesy of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre