Theater Latte Da's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through October 30 at the McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. These reviewers agree that while this might not be a deep, character-driven musical, it is a whole lot of fun.
The contestants of Theater Latte Da's "Spelling Bee"
Photo by Michal Daniel
You don't have to grade on a curve to give Theater Latte Da's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" an "A."
The production - rechristened "The 25th Annual Seven-County Metro Area Spelling Bee" for its month-long run at the Ordway Center's McKnight Theatre - bounces along with snappy fun, a score that is tuneful and original-sounding and a well-woven set of performances that capture both the humor and the heartbreak of being a square-peg person in a round-hole world.
Mary Fox as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre
Photo by Michal Daniel
Theater Latté Da has reclaimed the wit of this musical, written by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin, in the intimate McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center. The production, directed and choreographed by Peter Rothstein and Michael Matthew Ferrell, reveals the endearing vulnerabilities of teenagers whose mettle is tested under the hot glare of competition. We dare not laugh at Schwarty's lisp, or Olive's mousy self-image, because they want to win so badly and how can you laugh at kids doing their level best?
This does not mean the six competitors and the three adults who proctor the bee are not funny. But this humor resists the hollow amusement of vaudevillian pretense and touches the heart.
Cat Brindisi and Joseph R. Pyfferoen In Theater Latté Da's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"
Photo by Michal Daniel
...[Composer William] Finn and [writer Rachel] Sheinkin fail to explore these characters in a truly satisfying way. Too often they fall back on camp and shallow comic effect. As a result we don't care enough about the triumphs of the characters and we don't really invest in the contest. The play certainly amuses - indeed, it'll have you laughing constantly - but in the end it doesn't compel.
The actors delight. The danger with a show like this is that the performances can become campy and ungrounded, ends in themselves, and it is greatly to the credit of directors Peter Rothstein and Michael Matthew Ferrell (the show, oddly, credits two) that they are able to reign the cast in and keep the show focused and crisply paced.
Have you seen "Spelling Bee?" If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.
At least one of the books has a "Minnesota connection" - in the nonfiction category, Deborah Baker's "The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism" was published by Graywolf Press.
Young People's Literature
Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name Is Not Easy
Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again
Albert Marrin, Flesh and Blood So Cheap
Lauren Myracle, Shine
Gary D. Schmidt, Okay for Now
Andrew Krivak, The Sojourn
Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic
Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories
Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
Deborah Baker, The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism
Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution
Stephen Greenblatt, Swerve
Manning Marable, Malcolm X
Lauren Redniss, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout
Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split
Yusef Komunyakaa, The Chameleon Couch
Carl Phillips, Double Shadow
Adrienne Rich, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve
Bruce Smith, Devotions
Posted at 3:31 PM on October 12, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Dance
Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts
Both the awards and the center were named after Sage Cowles, a long time supporter of the local dance scene, and a dancer in her own right. Along with her husband, John Cowles, Sage helped found the Minnesota Independent Choreographers' Alliance, helped fund the Barbara Barker Center for Dance at the University of Minnesota, and established the Cowles Land Grant Chair, which underwrites residencies by dancers, choreographers, critics, and other professionals in the field.
This year's SAGE awards were as follows:
• Feet Don't Fail Me Now! - Rhythmic Circus (Nick Bowman, Ricci Milan, Kaleena Miller)
• The Thank you Bar - Emily Johnson/Catalyst + BLACKFISH
• Who Made These Videotapes? - Laurie Van Wieren
• Alanna Morris - TU Dance spring concert and Dreams: A Solo• Greg Waletski - Like an Octopus and Anatomy of a Viciously Sweet
• Dancers of Feet Don't Fail Me Now by Rhythmic Circus
Outstanding Design (two honorees):
• Costumes for Journey - Sonya Berlovitz
• Video, lighting and music for Heaven - Robert Hammel & Steve Campbell (video), Marcus Dilliard (lighting), Chan Poling and Natalie Nowytski/Peter O'Gorman/Victor Zupanc/Joe Chvala (score and music)
Outstanding Dance Educator:
• Toni Pierce-Sands
• Linda Shapiro, long-time dance writer