Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 13, 2010

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through October 17, 2010
by Shera Cohen

How do you spell the one word that means: delightful story of three-dimensional characters, highs and lows of childhood, set to music? The answer: M-A-J-E-S-T-I-C. The Majestic kicks off the 2010/2011 season with a sweet play about a spelling bee. Seemingly an odd subject for a musical, the opening full-cast number sets the tones for the next two hours of warmth and fun.

The plot of "Bee" is exactly as one would expect - competition of youngsters in a spelling contest. These are the tense finals for six kids in the running. With audience participation of the brave souls who join the bee, the adults spell right along with the youth until all are purposely eliminated. The challenged words are those that the average person with a doctorate degree in English would never know. Each word is defined and used in a sentence, resulting in the biggest ongoing laughs of the show. Actor Tim Cochran's (Vice Principal) deadpan delivery adds to the humor. Event MC and former bee winner Rona, portrayed by Lori Efford, serves as den mother to the pack.

The competition continues with some losers and one winner. More important than the spelling of "chimerical" are the subjects of mutual and self-respect. Each young speller comes with poignant and sympathetic baggage, and every character possesses a physical or psychological flaw. In other words - these are real people. For adult actors to portray cute children is not an easy task. Throw in choreography and singing, and the burden (or joy) is three-fold. Two "students" need to enunciate their lyrics a bit (the funny lyrics must be heard). While "Bee" is an ensemble with a capital "E," a Majestic "regular" should be mentioned. One of the area's best actors/singers, Luis Manzi might have been better instructed to play his role as the ex-con Comfort Councilor broader.

The set is ideal as a typical school gym. The band of three never overpowers. Songs are not memorable, yet one is exquisite (Manzi, Efford, and Hilary Buxbaum's "I Love You Song"). Dual roles are clear. Passage of time is handled perfectly by director Meghan Lynn Allen. Be sure to be at the "Bee".