Any way you spell it, The Barksdale Theater has a hit with their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Any way you spell it, The Barksdale Theatre has a hit with their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Centered on six hyper-competitive middle school kids who are, in their own words, “a little bit bizarre,” Spelling Bee has everything a good musical needs: verve, wit, energy, catchy songs, and most importantly, a soul. Everyone has experienced their own moment of perfect middle school awkwardness, so it’s impossible not to root for this group of above-average nerds. Slowly, through snippets of song and dialogue, each child’s back-story (and the root of their drive to win) is revealed. The spellers’ hopes and insecurities clearly hit a nerve with the opening night audience, as evidenced by the honest gasps of surprise each time the “elimination” bell dinged.
Loaded with talent, the entire ensemble cast charms their way through material made funnier by the fact that it’s entirely not appropriate for children. There’s a song about erections. Consider yourselves warned.
Eric Stallings plays William Barfeé (with his one working nostril and peanut allergy) to perfect, dorky perfection, and his solo song and dance number had audience members literally laughing themselves out of their seats. In the role of Vice Principal Douglas Panch, Ford Flannagan makes spelling words subversive with perfect, droll delivery. Ally Wepplo and Debra Wagoner are the clear vocal standouts, but it’s also important to note Audra Honaker’s ability to sing and spell with a perfect lisp.
If you go, and you’re a either a former champion speller or simply a glutton for punishment, there’s a chance for audience participation. Show up early if you’d like the chance to be on stage. Even if the spotlight’s not your thing, it’s worth getting there ahead of time to check out the Barksdale’s lobby, which has been turned into an out-of-the-ordinary middle school common area.
Spelling Bee’s complete lack of cynicism will refresh you, and the cast will alternately have you in hysterics, warm your heart, and give you a new appreciation for the spell-check button. There’s no better way to start off a stressful holiday season than with two solid hours of laughter. Do not miss it.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs until January 17th. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 804-282-2620 or online (processing fee will be charged).
(Photos by Jay Paul)