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Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 09/21/2006

Buzz About the 'Bee'

By Erin

"Billy, quick, duck behind this Western Wall. I think I see a jihad coming!" That's just one of the many zingers from the traveling production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," currently competing in Baltimore. Though it wins no props for its songs -- I view the musical interludes as a break in the hilarity -- this is a bona fide opportunity to revel in the sheer misery and idealism of pre-adolescence.

The show follows six school spelling bee champs competing for a chance to attend the finals in Washington. There is an allergy-plagued geek with a magic foot, a hippie, a Boy Scout, an overachieving Asian girl, a lisping politician-to-be and an unsure dreamer as well as four audience members who are brought up on stage to compete. Though the overemphatic stereotypes make it hard to identify with any one character, I silently cheered as they talked about silly word games and letter rearrangement tricks -- things I play to amuse and distract myself as I navigate the D.C. streets. Though I've never personified my reference books as one character does in "My Friend, the Dictionary," I certainly see the appeal.

Last night's show got off to a rocky start when a cast member, one of the six spellers, fell ill shortly after the play commenced. Luckily, it is a show where improv is not only welcome, but necessary, so the judges distracted the audience while the understudy suited up. Minutes later, the 'Bee' was back and buzzing along. After being informed that there would be no intermission, audiences twittered when a judge announced a 10-minute intermission to deal with one speller's hypoglycemia, but the actors trudged through remarkably well.

The show is like a zany whirlwind going in every direction with jaw-dropping twists. One song recurs each time the judge relives a landmark moment as she tries to determine her "Favorite Moment of the Bee." I certainly agree that finding a favorite part is a difficult task. It is refreshing to find a musical where nerds, not lovers, reign supreme. It's a winner, and I can't spell that clearly enough.


By Erin  | September 21, 2006; 12:12 PM ET
Categories:  Theater  
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I saw it on B'Way. Fun, amusing, smart. But it ain't art. I say B+.

Posted by: PostWatch | September 21, 2006 7:16 PM | Report abuse

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