If you've ever competed for anything in your life you'll thoroughly enjoy Barksdale Theatre's “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
This partly scripted, partly improvisational (and interactive) musical keeps the audience so engaged that the evening whizzes by as fast as you can spell “cow.”
Spontaneity is a huge part of what makes this zany production fun. Six actor “spellers” (Matt Polson, Audra Honaker, Matt Shofner, Eric Stallings, Yvonne Same and Aly Wepplo) and four preselected, real-life audience members compete for a chance to go on to the state competition.
The nonactor members of the cast add a fascinating element of unpredictability. It's exciting to watch as they try to navigate dance numbers and are occasionally asked to spell fake words that are made up by Ford Flannagan as Douglas Panch, the spelling bee moderator. Rounding out the cast are Debra Wagoner as the prim but not stiff event organizer, Rona Lisa Peretti and a charming William Cortez-Statham as Mitch Mahoney, a petty criminal helping out as part of a community service requirement. The show is so loosely scripted it's almost like a different spectacle every time.
Although the show centers on elementary-school children competing in a spelling bee, it has some mature themes concerning nontraditional parents and adolescent boys' erectile control issues. It also offers grown-ups the chance to gently examine their own competitive natures and insecurities via excellent songs by Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn.
There are many amazing talents exhibited in this show: Honaker's gift of unscripted monolog, Stallings' ability to spell with his foot in slow motion, Same's excellence at everything and, as always, Wagoner's incredible singing voice. In short, the operative word for this show is spelled W-O-W! S
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs at the Barksdale Theatre at 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, on select dates through Jan. 17. For information call 282-2620 or visit www.barksdalerichmond.org.