Arts Runoff: 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE

Summary: Just to clear up any remaining confusion, there isn’t actually a spelling bee this weekend.  It’s a musical!  A fun one about an elementary-school spelling bee packed full of oddballs who want to win a little too badly. Sounds like a kids’ show, but occasional language and non-PC jokes make it inappropriate for young kids and more interesting for adults. Staged by the College’s totally student-led musical-theater group, the Middlebury College Musical Players (MCMP).

Good: I’m not sure how much of this was written into the original script, but the production included the audience in really creative ways. (I won’t give it away, but it’s awesome and innovative.) // Fantastic directing by JJ Janikis (’12): each role was cast perfectly, the actors were allowed to play to their strengths and a surprising amount of visual variation was folded into a set comprised of just a desk, a microphone, and some rolling bleachers. // Really good singing and acting. Even when songs weren’t perfect, I was never afraid the actors would miss notes; I was along for the ride.

Bad: One problem with having a simple set is that any discordant elements stand out.  I wasn’t sure what the pew-like white benches were doing on top of the bleachers; normal audience chairs would have stood out less and helped make the audience part of the play. // I wanted to hear Mitch Mahoney (Khalid Tellis ’13) more clearly.  His singing was great and his lines were interesting, but something about the level or placement of his mic made me lose about half of his lines. Technical control over audio levels was sometimes patchy.

Broad: MCMP usually does canonical, slightly cheesy broadway classics.  Often, it feels like the group tries too hard to live up to huge shows.  But with Spelling Bee, none of that mattered: it’s a simple, solid show that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  More like this, please.  // On a deeper note, I couldn’t help but compare the obsessed, stressed, parentally-pressed kids in the play to us Middkids. Often, we stake our entire wellbeing on fickle, arcane tests of skills which may mean little for our futures. The best spellers don’t always win, and even if they do, what does winning mean, anyway? // MCMP shows don’t always get as much respect as some of the College’s other theater offerings; this show convinced me they deserve better.

Contextual Rating: If you have something important to do this weekend,
…do it, and see this show if you can;
…put it off and see this show;
…skip it. SEE THIS SHOW.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in the Town Hall Theater.  Three more shows: Friday at 8:00, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00. Tickets available here or at the door.

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