ARLINGTON -- This city is famous for its athletic competitions, from the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys to the glory of the coming Super Bowl. But Theatre Arlington has found a field of play where the excitement and tension of competition reaches a new zenith that makes those sports events look fainthearted and frivolous: spelling.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the show currently agonizing over consonants and vowels at the theater, takes us inside the terrors and pitfalls of stringing together letters to build words while the pressure is on. And as if those words weren't difficult enough in this hysterically funny musical, the motley crew stepping up to the microphone all have issues that can't be solved by a dictionary.
Take William Barfee (B.J. Cleveland). Please. Chronic respiratory problems, a peanut allergy and a gift for condescension are among his more endearing qualities. But he is a spelling maniac who has a special trick for checking his letters.
At the other end of the spectrum is the relentlessly bubbly, plaid-skirted overachiever Marcy Park (Mary Jerome), who participates in the bee because she participates in everything.
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Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Megan Kelly) is an earnest competitor, but she has trouble dealing with her two dads. Olive Ostrovsky (Erica Harte) just hopes her one dad will attend the bee.
And poor Chip Tolentino (Jason Kennedy). His Scout uniform and merit badge sash suggest that he has things under control. But being a good speller is not much help for an adolescent dealing with distractions from the opposite sex, and he learns that it can be tough to be a stand-up guy.
Presiding over this parade of misfits are teacher Rona Lisa Peretti (Jenny Thurman) and Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Todd Hart). The former yearns to be back in the bee's spotlight, while the latter just wants to be anywhere else.
The voices are great overall, and Kennedy and Harte especially make you wish they had more numbers.