- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, currently at the very comfortable Huntington Beach Playhouse (there’s free parking and the playhouse is part of the city’s library complex) takes you back to a past you probably never had, but knew about, where nerdy kids whose only friend was the dictionary and competed to be the best speller in their town. Now it’s the Academic Decathlon, and gets a lot more respect.
Spelling Bee was a big Broadway hit a few years back, and its combination of teenage angst, lively songs, audience participation (four people from the audience are in the show) and improvisation have made it a continuing favorite for smaller theaters around the country. It was staged at the La Mirada Center for the Performing Arts a few years ago.
The HBPH production takes place on a stage that looks a lot like every high school, with bleachers on one side for the contestants, a microphone mid-stage, and plenty of room for the cast to engage in an occasional dance.
Kristen Matson was Rona in last Saturday’s performance, a young woman whose victory in the Spelling Bee many years ago helped her become the number one real estate salesperson in the county. She’s the stage production’s biggest promoter and a lively presence, but much of the comedy comes from Wade Woodridge as Vice Principle Panch, who ad libs his lines about half the time, giving participants spelling words as diverse as “cow” and “capybara,” keeping everything flowing smoothly in what must be a comic stretch.
There are plenty of other great individual performances. Eric Anderson as Barfee, whose name has an accent aigu and who spells with his “magic” foot; Camryn Rae as Olive, the teenager with two male parents and pink overalls; and Dylan Lujano, who lets his sexually explicit thoughts interfere with his concentration. There are some great, if not quite memorable songs, and the audience, including those roped into performing, have a great time too. Who knows, you might even be able to spell all the words right, although Julie Andrews, on-stage as a celebrity in one performance, couldn’t manage “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Tickets are $20, $18 for students and seniors. Performances are Friday, July 13 at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 14 at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 15 at 2 p.m, Thursday, July 19 at 8 p.m., Friday, July 20 at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 22 at 2 p.m.
Details: (714) 375-0606, www.hbplayhouse.com
Venue: Huntington Beach Playhouse
Location: 7111 Talbert Ave, Huntington Beach