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‘Spelling Bee’ is a W-I-N-N-E-R

By R. Eli Townsend
Special to The PREVIEW

Photo courtesy Doug Chapin “Spelling Bee” is the hit musical comedy that chronicles the experiences of six adolescent outsiders vying for the spelling championship of a lifetime and grownups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves. Winner of the 2005 Tony Award for “Best Book of a Musical,” this hilarious and warmhearted tale of overachievers’ angst, celebrates the triumph of doing the best you can. 

Photo courtesy Doug Chapin
“Spelling Bee” is the hit musical comedy that chronicles the experiences of six adolescent outsiders vying for the spelling championship of a lifetime and grownups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves. Winner of the 2005 Tony Award for “Best Book of a Musical,” this hilarious and warmhearted tale of overachievers’ angst, celebrates the triumph of doing the best you can. 

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” opens tonight with director Ryan Hazelbaker at the helm. Showing at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts, it’s the second offering by the resident Thingamajig Theatre Company this summer in its repertory rotation, with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (which opened on June 13) already a huge success by critical and box office standards.

With “Spelling Bee” moving quickly from off-Broadway to a Broadway run in 2005, the improv-musical hybrid has become by far the most produced show for composer William Finn.

If you’re one of those people that is eight years late to the party, it’s was worth the wait. This hilarious confection, penned by Finn with his onetime student Rachel Sheinkin and based on an improv scenario conceived by Rebecca Feldman, is a remarkably effective blend of scripted musical, improvisation and audience involvement that reaches back to the idealism of childhood without getting cutesy about it. Six adult actors portray six middle school-aged spellers at the county finals; also in the scrabble are four audience members recruited before the show.

Sheinkin’s gentle, witty book and Finn’s sweet score blend to offer just enough back story about the quirky contestants and the ridiculousness of the contest they’re in. The writers demonstrate great affection for their creations, but an adult eye toward the universal discomforts of adolescence.

It feels unfair to single out anyone among Hazelbaker’s astounding young cast, some of whom for which this isn’t their first “Spelling Bee.” All look like they’re having the time of their lives on stage, a credit to Hazelbaker’s keen eye for detail and comedy, even in unlikely situations.

Photo courtesy Doug Chapin “Spelling Bee” director/choreographer Ryan Hazelbaker has had a busy summer splitting his time between Pagosa Springs and Creede. Hazelbaker, who calls Pagosa his “home,” recently choreographed Creede Repertory Theatre’s “Annie Get your Gun” and Thingamajig’s “Beauty and the Beast.” 

Photo courtesy Doug Chapin
“Spelling Bee” director/choreographer Ryan Hazelbaker has had a busy summer splitting his time between Pagosa Springs and Creede. Hazelbaker, who calls Pagosa his “home,” recently choreographed Creede Repertory Theatre’s “Annie Get your Gun” and Thingamajig’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Among the kids, Morgan Howard as the lisping Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, whose unwieldy last name combines those of her unrelenting dads, and Steven Sitzman as Leaf Coneybear, a special snowflake who designs his own outfits, make big impressions — but then so do spellers Charity Ruth Haskins, Lisa Revis, Alejandro Roldan and Samuel Damare (it’s incredibly fun to watch his “Magic Foot” in action), and adults Jamie Finkenthal, Brian Tarter and Troy Bruchwalski.

There’s good reason this show has seen such wide success. Don’t wait to have it spelled out for you, get your tickets today.

Thingamajig Theatre Company presents “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” directed and choreographed by Ryan Hazelbaker. Music direction by Boni McIntyre. Rated PG-13. Showing at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts June 26-Aug. 20. For tickets and show information, please visit www.pagosacenter.oreg or call 731-SHOW (7469).

This story was posted on June 26, 2014.