One of the spellers in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee loves her dictionary because “lost things can be put in order,” and another recognizes that his involvement could show his family that “I might be smart.” The musical about adolescents competing for the national spelling bee is ultimately about how they find their places in life, and the show’s current production on the Showboat Majestic amplifies material in the script to create an inventive rendition of the 2005 Broadway hit.
As Marcy Park (Stephanie Park) bemoans the tyranny of over-achievement (“I Speak Six Languages”), we watch her tap dance, do origami, twirl a baton and do the splits. Leaf Coneybear (Colin Farrell), who makes his own clothes, wears a goofy cape that flips into a spooky mask.
Director Dan Doerger has pushed his actors to make the most of their roles. He should have turned down Matt Hill’s angry William Barfée a notch or two, channeling his anxiety rather allowing him to seem constantly pissed. But Hall turns on William’s nerdy charm when he connects with nervous but sensitive Olive Ostroshky (Danielle Meo) as two geeks discover common ground.
Spelling Bee really clicks when volunteer spellers join in the fun onstage with the cast. The performance I saw on Sept. 11 recruited people who picked up quickly on choreography and responded to funny ad-libbed intros by emcee Rona Peretti (Katy Lindhart). With uptight vice principal Douglas Panch (Braden Mechley) enhancing the hilarity using weird definitions and double-entendre examples, everything clicked.
Spelling Bee is a tad spicy by Showboat standards (“Chip’s Lament,” sung by Jonathan Zeng, is about his “unfortunate erection”), but the humor is innocent and true, and no one seemed to object, certainly not me. I enjoyed this production, and I suspect others will, too.
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, presented by Cincinnati Landmark Productions on the Showboat Majestic, continues through Sept. 25. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.