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A CurtainUp London Review
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Real life Barbie Doll, compere and Real Estate Agent, Rona Lisa Perretti is played by tall, blonde and not a hair out of place, Katherine Kingsley. Comic actor Steve Pemberton lends gravitas as Vice Principal Douglas Panch. All the names are faintly ridiculous here!
The opening number, "A Very Nice Beginning" sees lots of flapping hands choreography and high 5s with the audience. A few handpicked audience members are invited to compete to swell the contestant numbers but thankfully they just have to spell not sing. Before we start we are dragged to our feet to participate in the "Oath of Allegiance".
Each of the contestants is writ larger than life to maximise the comic potential and each has a different spelling technique. Mr Leaf Coneybear (Chris Carswell) seems to go into a trance as his level of concentration takes over and his eyes stand out on stalks. William Barfe relies on his magic spelling foot before he spells the words out loud, another writes them on his arm first. We meet "America's Most Overachieving Asian Catholic" Marcy Park (Maria Lawson) who speaks and maybe spells in six languages and the rather disturbed adopted daughter of two gay men, Logainne Schwartzangrubenniere (Iris Roberts). I suppose if you learn to spell that 21 letter surname you'll have a degree of spelling aptitude.
The show's humour is driven by the characterisation of the contestants and the novelty of real life audience participation. I very much liked the fast forward through the contest followed by the slow motion as if watching a video tape. To be honest, the show didn't please me as much as it might have but I definitely was in the minority.
To read Curtainup's reviews from its beginning as Barrington Stages to Broadway and including the song list go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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