Putnam County Spelling Bee

Its theme song has been bouncing around in my head since we returned from Calgary, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The unlikely 2005 Broadway hit musical had been extended in the Max Bell Theatre produced by Theatre Calgary, giving Claude and I the opportunity to attend during our free night on Saturday.

Directed by Dean Paul Gibson, the Spelling Bee featured Gavin Crawford of This Hour Has 22 Minutes fame. Crawford's part was certainly no more significant than any of the other actors playing spelling bee contestants, but his visage was splashed front and centre everywhere the show was being marketed. In that small respect, it felt a little Mayfield Dinner Theatre-ish. It put me in mind of shows from the past starring folks like Joyce Dewitt from Three's Company or Jamie Farr from MASH. I even saw a show there starring Robert Vaughn from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The premise: a group of students compete in the 25th annual Putnam County spelling bee. Simple.

The hook: six of the students are actors, four are pulled from the audience.

As we watched from high up in the third balcony, the theatrical nosebleeds, we laughed hysterically through the first act. The matronly principal, played by Marcia Tratt, introduced each student followed by an interesting fact.

"Bill Smith (a balding guest from the audience)," began the Principal. "Bill recently recovered from a case of lice."

Then the effeminate vice-principal gave the word: "Cellar."

"Can you give me the definition please," asked Bill, from the microphone down centre in front of the 700 people in the audience.

"Bill likes to store his dead bodies in the cellar so nobody finds them," replied the cagey host.

As the act proceeded the words got harder and harder till there was only one non-actor left on the bench. This pretty young lady confidently approached the microphone and was given an impossibly difficult word. To the chagrin and shock of the host, she nailed it, obviously something that wasn't supposed to happen.

As she began to make her way back to the bench, the host piped up "Get back to the microphone, we're just going to have to give you another one!"

They gave her another hard word and successfully knocked her out allowing the story to spiral to its eventual conclusion. And honestly, the show really did go downhill from there. It wasn't terrible by any stretch, nor was it anything the actors or director did or didn't do. The script's strength lies in the first half of the show, that's all.

My favourite performance was by Kevin Corey, who played William Barfee. I believe Kevin is a former Fort McMurrayite who is an outstanding character actor. I also enjoyed Doug McKeag who played Douglas Panch, the gay-as-the-day-is-long host. His characterization was terrific. I'll never forget his saunter from the gymnasium doors to the front of the stage--classic.

April 27, 2010 - 192.6 pounds, 28.8% body fat


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