Any show titled The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee telegraphs that it will be sweet, nerdy, awkward and self-conscious, sometimes all at once. And the Pollard Theatre Company production of this musical by William Finn (music/lyrics) and Rachel Sheinkin (book) is all of those plus poignant at moments and engaging, if mildly so. This isnt the first production of Spelling Bee in the Oklahoma City area, and its somewhat surprising to report that the show holds up to repeat viewing. The spelling bee takes place in a school gym (scenic design is by James A. Hughes), where its sponsored by the Putnam optometrists (slogan: You have to see us to believe us). The spellers are various types reflecting the vicissitudes of contemporary life. Adult actors play the adolescent contestants, and this conceit works remarkably well.
The director, Shawn Churchman, has assembled a fine cast and puts them to good use. Doug Ford plays William Barfee (Its pronounced bar-fay!), a science geek and speller with his special Magic Foot technique. Fords tetchiness masks a certain vulnerability in the boy.
The polar opposite of William is Leaf Coneybear, the home-schooled issue of hippie parents. Played by the highly appealing Jared Blount, cape-wearing Leaf is the kind of free spirit who can fall down while hes sitting on a bench. He placed third in his local bee, but hes in the county championship because his two superiors had to go to a bat mitzvah.
The shows poignancy comes in the character of Olive Ostrovsky (Michelle Owens), whose best friend is the dictionary. Her mother has fled to an ashram in
India, and her father is too busy working to attend the spelling bee. Olive and her parents unite only in the girls imagination in The I Love You Song. This scene should be required viewing for everyone with children.
The lisping Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Megan Montgomery) admits shes overcomplicated. Her surname is an amalgamation of those of her two fathers, lint-picking helicopter parents in the extreme (played by Blount and Michael Turrentine).
Finns score ranges from jaunty to pleasant. One lad sees a girl he likes in the audience and is bumped from the bee in My Unfortunate Erection/Distraction (Chips Lament) (Ben Rodriguez in a Boy Scout uniform).
The best lines are when the official pronouncer, Panch (Harold Mortimer), uses the words in a sentence, a convention of spelling bees: Billy, put down that phylactery; were Episcopalian. Sallys mother told her it was her cystitis that made her special.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Through Sept. 13The Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie