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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee review at Broadway Studio London

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Originally conceived from an improvised play, this charming musical follows a disparate group of quirky adolescents as they take part in a school spelling competition.

The Tony Award-winning book by Rachel Sheinkin gently parodies the competitive nature of the American educational system but also exposes the comfort and motivation competitions such as these allow young people. There is a great deal of observational humour at play here, as might be expected from its improvised origins but there is also the gimmick of incorporating audience members into the spelling bee, which adds even more fun to the proceedings.

This talented young company attack William Finn’s lively score with bags of energy, immediately establishing characters and traits without roaming too far into broad caricature. Newcomer Will Jennings for example, squirms and splutters through the role of the arrogant William Barfee, but it’s an utterly engaging characterisation maintained throughout and really rather sincere. Miri Gellert as politically aware Logainne, Tanya Shields as newcomer Olive and Bex Roberts as the home-schooled Leaf all deliver equally affectionate, moving performances as does Brian McCann as Chip, evidently savouring the opportunity to lament an unfortunate onset of puberty.

The adults in this production are easily as eccentric as the children with Caroline Rodgers on form as the preppy Rona Peretti and Brian McCann as Panch. Rodgers and McCann make the most of their comedy moments on stage but really come into their own when doubling as Olive’s parents for the bittersweet ballad, I Love You Song.

Adam Boland’s direction appears a little frenetic at times but considering audience members take part throughout the first half, including one of the dance numbers, this might be expected.

Production Information

Broadway Studio, London, March 1-24

William Finn (music/lyrics), Rachel Sheinkin (book)
Adam (Bo) Boland
Martin Costello
Miri Gellert, Caroline Rodgers, Tanya Shields, Will Jennings, Bex Roberts, Brian McCann, Jacqui Sanchez, Benjamin Stratton, James Doughty
Running time

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