For The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the stage of the IU Auditorium has been transformed into a school gym complete with the baskets cranked up to the ceiling and the spellers sitting on a set of those darned uncomfortable bleachers.
The energetic Nikki Switzer played the local host, a local realtor who was a pageant winner twenty years ago. Anthony Lopez was a defensive but authoritative figure as the school’s vice principal and the quiz master. The hefty Don Juan Seward II was menacing as Mitch, a convict out on work release. He was the spelling bee’s enforcer and a surprisingly gentle comforter of the losers.
The spellers for “The 25th Annual…” were quite a crew. Last year’s winner played by Kavin Panmeechao seemed on his way to a repeat until a spasm of puberty broke his concentration. Joanna Krupnik as an assertive lady with gender issues and two pressuring fathers was doing well until a particular word stopped her. Ryan Goodale played a cheerful silly who kept getting words right just by blind chance.
Yvonne Same had the role of a too perfect over achiever. She’d skipped third and fifth grades, spoke six languages and played the piano well enough to join the band for part of a tune. She was freed from perfection only by a vision of a forgiving Jesus Christ.
Brittany Ross played the evening’s crowd pleasing sweet heart and the runner up in the contest. The show pulls a bit hard on the heart strings for her, but I enjoyed the energy of her trio with Nikki Switzer and Don Juan Seward playing her parents. They were joined by cellist Ren Ariizumi for some emotional and rhythmic moments.
This left Christian Busath as the winner. It will be a while before anyone who saw him forgets this little fire plug shaped chunk of an actor. Busath’s character combined skill, arrogance, some surprisingly graceful dance moves and even a bit of touching vulnerability.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is presented in a single hour and forty-five minute act. The first half is a gold mine with very funny dialogue, creative approaches to introducing the characters, and challenging words that lead to some very amusing moments. The second half is worth mining as well, but I thought that things fell off a bit as it began. However with some new approaches, more sharp lines and the deeper explorations of the characters the show was back on top again and into the finale.