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THEATER REVIEW: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

What do you find at a spelling bee? Nerds, and at Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” – the musical about such a bee – the spellers you’ll meet live up to everybody’s expectations. Consider these contestants:

* Chip Tolentino (Shaun Tuazon-Martin) – you know, the one with the glasses who will eventually be done in by “My Unfortunate Erection.”

* Logainne Schwarzandgrubenniere (Amy Perkins), she of the two dads who gave her the weight of both last names, head of the gay-straight alliance at her school.

* Willliam Barfee (Omri Schein), last year’s winner, long on spelling ability but short on social grace, whose specialty is foot spelling (so he can “see” that his word “looks” right).

* Marcy Park (Kelly Derouin, standing in for the broken-footed Rae K. Henderson), with blonde braids and a serious demeanor. Her claim to fame: “I Speak Six Languages.”

* Olive Ostrovsky (Sarah Errington), whose mom is in an Indian ashram and whose dad never seems to get there in time to watch the competition.

* Leaf Coneybear (Kevin Hafso-Koppman), son of hippies who give their kids funny names. Leaf makes his own clothes (so to speak), and reminds everyone that “I’m Not That Smart.”

Running the show are Rona Lisa Peretti (Nancy Snow Carr) and Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Geno Carr), the official word pronouncer, returning after a five-year hiatus.

Their burly handmaiden is “comfort counselor” Mitch Mahoney (Benjamin Roy), whose job is to offer each loser a fruit bar and make sure they get off the stage. This is part of his court-mandated community service.

Everybody sings – about themselves, spelling rules and “My Friend The Dictionary” (I told you they were nerds.) As each speller goes down, the remaining contestants even sing goodbye, reminding the loser that “you were good, but not good enough.”

Every one of these actors is spot-on, engaging, funny and poignant at the right times. Even the four adult audience “volunteers” recruited from the audience get into the act and appear to be enjoying it.

The source material (book by Rachel Sheinkin, music and lyrics by William Finn) is well served by director Kathy Brombacher, the cast and musicians Dr. Terry O’Donnell (pianist and music director) and percussionist Daniel Doerfler.

If you ever went to a spelling bee, this will look very familiar. If not, even better: you get to watch the fireworks unimpeded by memory.

Either way, don’t miss this show.

The details

Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” plays through March 15 at San Marcos Performing Arts Center, 1615 W. San Marcos Blvd. in San Marcos (on the campus of San Marcos High School).

Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (800) 718-4253 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.