DC Theatre Scene: SPELLING BEE

It’s tough being a kid, and the pay is very low. You may have forgotten how it was to bear the sodden weight of your parents’ expectations while coping with the assault of the raging hormones, but book-writer Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn, who composed a witty upbeat score, did not, and neither has Keegan Theatre. That’s why their earnest, intimate, pleasing production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee earns my highest rating.
… the clever book won one of the show’s two Tony Awards, and it combines with the score wonderfully for a cheery and humorous show.

The competitors are all loveable, though never cloying, misfits … If you saw the Broadway production, leave your expectations at the door. Director Christina A. Coakley has brought out the childhood innocence of the characters in a way I’ve never seen before.  …  Michael Innocenti gives the cape-wearing character an endearing childish appeal, even as he fears “I’m Not That Smart.”  Dan Sonntag … gives the allergic and nasally challenged William a nice touch of exaggerated realism ….

Perhaps the nicest surprise of the production is the breakout performance of Madeline Botteri as Olive Ostrovsky, who awaits both her father and the entrance fee for the Bee.  She conveys the wide-eyed joy she found with “My Friend the Dictionary” with a charming sweetness that wins the sympathy of the adults – and one of her competitors.

Keegan calibrates the entire production to achieve the light-hearted mood of the show.  George Lucas’ set design conveys the gymnasium feel with a cartoonish flavor.  Elisa Rosman and the orchestra handle Finn’s melodically complex music with tempo and poise.  Melissa Douglass Bustamante’s choreography is appropriately childlike and joyful …

-Read the full review