“Spelling Bee” at The Redhouse: A Zany, Good Time

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Who: The Redhouse

Where: 201 West Street, Syracuse, NY

When: Through Sept. 27

Reviewed by: Kate Drozynski

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” premiered last night on the Redhouse stage to riotous laughter and an audience of grimacing smiles in remembrance of awkward adolescence.

How could it not? The quirky plot focuses on the spelling bee experiences of six strange kids, three equally-as-strange adults and four unsuspecting audience participants. Improvisation, ad-lib and the interactions of the cast with the audience result in a different performance every show.

The all-adult cast isSpellBee_postcard_Final_BLEED_F committed to playing the brilliant group of little weirdos, each with their own idiosyncratic spelling techniques and surprisingly touching back stories.

Matthew Elliott as Leaf stands out among the crowd as a naïve and peculiar kid dressed in clothes he made himself resembling a makeshift Mega Man. Leaf just wants to feel smart and Elliott’s wide eyes and childish grin inspire the audience to root for him to take the bee.

Another standout is Temar Underwood playing Mitch Mahoney. Mahoney is serving as a comfort counselor to disqualified spelling bee contestants as part of his state-mandated community service. Underwood’s exaggerated facial expressions let the audience know that Mahoney has seen things. Doling out hugs and juice boxes to the failed spellers, Mitch knows that the pain of defeat at the bee is nothing compared to the unfair pandemonium of life outside the Putnam County gymnasium. Underwood belts his musical numbers with stunning authority and terrific control.

Laura Austin plays the role of spelling bee coordinator and former champ Rona Lisa Peretti with just the right-sized stick up her backside. Her stiff and proper gestures barely contain the excitement her character feels at being part of spelling history.

The lighting, designed by Marie Yokoyama, did a fantastic job of transforming the tiny Redhouse stage. Changes in lighting flawlessly cued monologues, musical numbers and flashbacks.

There were a few moments throughout the play where lines were missed, props were forgotten or downbeats were lost, but the lose and silly nature of the play perfectly disguised any flubs. Even the cast was stifling laughs here and there.

“Spelling Bee” comes together as a zany story, earning laughs from audience embarrassment, wacky characters and one ill-timed erection.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be performed at the Redhouse through Sept. 27. Each Wednesday night will be a “Dirty Bee,” with R-rated improv just for adults.

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