Saturday, October 3, 2009
UPDATE: Zach Theatre will hold over The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee through November 8
This show is a charmer. It has the zing of a small scale musical, the familiarity of all those school auditoriums you endured while growing up, the uncertainties of a tournament, the highs of competition, the quips and laughs of improv comedy, and -- unexpectedly -- a second act that resonates with drama and tenderness.
Michael Raiford's set is bright, functional and simple, using the Kleberg Stage's thrust stage as a "cafetorium" in an anonymous middle school in the equally anonymous Putnam County. The unobtrusive background music dates back mostly to the 50's and 60's. Musicians are tucked back in the center alcove and the stage is provided with the appropriately sparse furnishing of folding tables and folding chairs.
The lights don't go down when the show starts. Instead, Jill Blackwood as Rona Lisa Peretti strides around with her impossibly angelic smile and authoritatively friendly manner, speaking in turn to various sections of the audience. We are part of this spectacle. This is a spelling bee finale and we are the friends, family and supporters of a collection of six bright or simply lucky kids. They all have the smarts or at least the unusual mental wiring to be spelling whizzes.
Yes, in the first half of the show four or five audience members will be recruited as contestants to sit with the kids and spell against them. But don't worry -- they've volunteered for the job. You won't be pulled out of your seat and into the spotlight without your consent. Jill Blackwood gives a chirpy introduction each time a speller comes forward and the audience volunteers are subjected to some gentle razzing ("Bill is devoted to the concept that casual Fridays really should be casual!").
Read more and see video at AustinLiveTheatre.com . . . .