I’ve seen multiple productions of THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE. Some are better than others – and for various reasons. Xavier University’s production is right there at the top.
Oh, sure, there are some vocal challenges. Most of the cast are excellent singers, though. And there were a couple missed lighting cues in this afternoon’s performance. But those can be easily overlooked because this production is so good at its core.
See, Skiles and his cast and crew understand the very heart of this show as good as anyone else. There’s no intermission; that’s the way the show is supposed to be produced. Many folks take one, but Skiles stays the course because the action shouldn’t stop. There’s a trajectory of emotion and pacing here and it must be paid attention to.
There’s also no rush. Often some of the jokes get lost in the laughter of the show but this cast takes their time. The characterizations are specific. The heartbreaking reality of these kids’ lives is never lost for the sake of the joke however the jokes abound. I appreciated the use of non-standard words for the spellers; it gave the show vitality and freshness.
Skiles has also cast this show well. Freshmen Katie Bauer (“Marcy Park”) and Cassie Delicate (“Rona”) are outstanding. So is Kalie Kaimann (“Logan”). I was entranced by Alex Roberts’ portrayal of “Olive;” she made me cry more than once. Hannah Sheppard (“Mitch”) and Eric Minion (“Panch”) give fine comedic turns and Aaron Krick (“Chip”) and Sean Burlingame (“Leaf”) earned laughter from the audience. Justin Lee as “Barfee” is excellent. He shows a lot of versatility in his performance, though there were times when I wished we’d heard less anger and seen more vulnerability at various times during the show. I think that the more ensemble work he gets the better he will be. He strikes me as a talented performer who is used to carrying shows himself; it’ll be great for him to settle in and build even more chemistry on stage with others.
The whole cast was a pleasure to watch and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I was moved and moved often. Dave Zlatic’s set and lights just keep getting better and better. Dee Ann Bryll’s choreography is inspired. Scot Buzza’s musical direction is superb, per usual, and Chuck Hatcher’s sound is well balanced and professional.
This is a high-class, quality production and I wish it was running longer.
There’s still one more chance this evening to see the show. Tomorrow at 1pm is a free understudy performance; the Xavier program is growing quickly and I couldn’t be more thrilled for them.
More information about Xavier Theatre and their exciting season (including THIS IS OUR YOUTH directed by Ed Stern up next) can be found here.