In the spirit of spelling bee competition, I will describe the Bergen County Players current production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" as H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S. This 2005 Broadway hit by composer-lyricist William Finn and playwright Rachel Sheinkin tells the tale of six misfit middle-schoolers trying their best to win the coveted Spelling Bee trophy, while at the same time, learning to accept themselves for who they are, preadolescent quirks and all.
One of the most unique aspects of BCP's "Spelling Bee" is the creative way in which they incorporate theater-goers into the show. At each performance, four "guest spellers" are pre-selected from the audience and plunked down into the middle of the spelling competition. To their great relief, they soon discover that they are given a slightly unfair advantage over the rest of the "competitiors". In Saturday evenings performance for example, a cast member was given the task of spelling "phylacteries", while the audience participant was challenged to spell "cow".
Hilarity ensues as the volunteer participants, the audience, and in some cases, the actors themselves are not quite sure what to expect from this impromptu element of the show. "As you can surmise, each and every performance is unique and different since we have four different audience members at each performance," explains the show's director Larry Landsman. "Our cast is prepared for any turn of events, they all went through improv training over the summer, and sometimes situations require the actors to ad lib in order to keep the show moving along or to respond to a volunteer."
The results lead to a fun-filled evening of theater. Among the stand-out performers is actor Phil Sloves, playing disheveled, geek William Barfee. After coming in second in last year's competition, Barfee is determined to prove he is worthy of the eluded trophy. In his show-stopping number "Magic Foot", Sloves demonstrates his character's unique spelling method of visualizing the word and then spelling it out along the floor with his foot. With the grace and subtlety of Jerry Lewis' Nutty Professor, Sloves uproarious performance brings down the house.
Perhaps the show's greatest appeal is the way it successfully captures the memorable middle school years that we have all experienced. "The quirky characters are so well written that we truly identify with, and end up rooting for them," notes Landsman. "It's amazing to watch audiences vocally gasp, sigh and groan when one of their favorite characters is eliminated from the bee. I suspect audiences are relating to a character that reminds them of someone they knew or even of themselves."
Both cast and crew will attest to the fact that bringing this production of "Spelling Bee" to fruition was not an easy task. The company endured a freak earthquake in mid-summer, the fury of Hurricane Irene in late August and the resulting power outages and road closures experienced throughout Bergen County. Yet despite the many obstacles thrown in their way, they persevered and ultimately put together this winning production. "We overcame it all to pull the show together in time for opening night," the director proudly exclaims, "As they say...'the show must go on!"
The Bergen County Players production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is currently playing at the Little Firehouse Theater through Ocotober 2 on Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm, with two additional performances on 9/25 at 7:00 pm and 9/30 at 11:00 pm for adults only.
For tickets and additional information, please call (201) 261-4200 or visit: www.bcplayers.org