THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE By William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin, directed by James Lapine (Dancap). At the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge). To February 10. $50-$100. 416-872-5555. Rating: NN
How do I spell the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee?
Yes, it’s a Tony winner. But this piece, about six socially challenged kids competing in a spelling bee and the equally tense adults who supervise it, claims to be heartwarming and uplifting; in fact, it’s filled with broad, superficial characterizations and humourless jokes.
The idea is that we’re in a school gym watching the bee finals. Four pre-selected audience members join the action to spell words both simple and unheard-of.
The six pubescent caricatured bee-ers include politically correct Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Dana Steingold); Leaf Coneybear (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), the child of 60s hippies who spells by channelling a manic spirit; sexually aware Chip Tolentino (Justin Keyes); affection-starved Olive Ostrovsky (Vanessa Ray); overachiever Marcy Park (Katie Boren); and William Barfee (Eric Roediger), whose magic foot dances out the right sequence of letters.
Presiding over the action are Miss Peretti (Roberta Duchak), a real-estate agent and former bee winner, neurotic Mr. Panch (James Kall) and Mitch Mahoney (Kevin Smith Kirkwood), who escorts the losers offstage.
Fun? Intermittently, when the hamminess is minimized or there’s a fluff, as when an audience contestant who’s supposed to misspell a bizarre word actually gets it right.
Fortunately, Keenan-Bolger and Ray lend charm to Leaf and Olive, making us care about the characters. The rest of the show, with its message that winning isn’t everything, is about as funny and entertaining as… well, it’s N-O-T.