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Show is F-U-N

Don't be fooled by the innocent name of the show. The Tony award winning show, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, got the Playhouse audience buzzing as soon as it started.
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Don't be fooled by the innocent name of the show.

The Tony award winning show, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, got the Playhouse audience buzzing as soon as it started.

This musical comedy is somewhat out of the box for a Judy Russell production. The show is interactive, taking the risk of including audience members as spelling bee contestants while the entire cast of characters remains on stage during most of the one-hour-and-forty-minute one-act play. There are performers new to the stage nicely balanced with veterans, each one stepping up to shine in their own - most often - peculiar way.

Each spelling bee contestant is a unique character who embraced their nerdiness, awkwardness, introvertedness, and quirkiness with full-blown enthusiasm that captured the audience with their charm.

It was quickly established that Rona Lisa Peretti, now a moderator for the event and former champion, has a wonderful passion for all things bee. Throughout the process of finding a champion, Peretti, beautifully played by Catherine Hansen McCarthy, shares her favourite moments as she is lovingly observed by Dwight Scott Wolfe as Vice-Principal Douglas Panch, who acts as the judge at the bee.

Outstanding performances include Wil Fundal, who plays William Barfee - with an accent aigu, and pronounced Barfay. Fundal's stage presence is spellbinding as he works his magic foot throughout the contest while lamenting the fact that his only downfall last year was a peanut allergy.

Adam Harasimiuk, who plays Leaf Coneybear is laugh-out-loud funny as a member of a hippy family who makes his own clothes and can only spell correctly when he goes into a trance. Harasimiuk plays - or is - a hyperactive kid who trips, bounces, and blunders his way through the contest trying to muster the confidence needed to win, despite the challenges of having his family's doubting chants in his head.

As the play continues it is revealed that each of the children has a different issue to deal with, the character development, thanks to Bunny Murray, is very much appreciated by the audience who never sees the same thing twice despite the fact that we're watching a bunch of kids at a spelling bee.

Dean Ozen plays Chip Tolentino, a young man bursting at the seams (of his pants) because of his sudden attraction to Marigold, Leaf's sister. When Chip is called upon to spell a word at a most inopportune time his dilemma is indelicately revealed through his song called My Unfortunate Erection. This rousing song is not to be missed.

Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, played by Shelby Meaney, is an outrageous character that is over zealous and over-the-top in the drama-queen department. She speaks with a lisp and, of course, just happens to get all the 's' words, like sluice, during the spelling bee.

Marcy Park played by Sufey Chen is a charming over achiever who feels obliged to win because her parents have high expectations. Well, as she calls out to Jesus in frustration, He answers her backing, telling her He loves her if she wins or loses, changing her whole perspective on life. Chen is very convincing as the parochial school girl.

Katie Mills plays Olive Ostrovsky, perhaps the most preoccupied-with-words contestant to grace the stage, her clear bell-tone voice is a joy to hear and her thoughtful demeanour is very engaging.

Curtis Abriel plays Mitch Mahoney, who is an ex-con taking on the position of official comfort-giver. Abriel is a newcomer to the stage and does a great job of playing a grown man who is thrown into the awkward position of comforting heart-broken children as they are eliminated from a competition while he really just wants to tell them to get over it already.

This play is different from the usual musical where show-tune numbers are tightly choreographed and orchestrated. This is a cleverly conducted peek into a world where the importance of spelling a word correctly can be equated with life's greater issues, like taking a stand, being your own person and maybe not being so eager to please others.

The Spelling Bee is on tonight and Saturday and again next week Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets are at Studio 2880. Can you spell G-O?