Although William Finn, Rachel Sheinkin and Rebecca Feldman’s 2005 Tony Award-winning “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” has quickly reached ‘done to death’ status in the Miami Valley, its fifth area presentation courtesy of the Dayton Playhouse, which opened Friday, January 28, is a joyful affair that finds great heart within the high octane, racy humor.
You may have fond memories of seeing this musical about six colorful adolescents nervously yet enjoyably aspiring to spelling perfection presented by the University of Dayton, Victoria Theatre Association, Wilmington College or Wright State University, but there is definite merit in the Playhouse’s well cast, well sung incarnation. Despite a slightly erratic energy level and a few comedic bits that go overboard or grow overlong, director Natalie Houliston, with lively assistance from choreographer Erica Hamilton, credibly establishes a character-driven playground of fun that is particularly magnetic in the more introspective musical numbers and reflective moments.
Lilting soprano Corinne Derusha, naturally embracing the bouncy, emotive musicality within Finn’s terrific score, leads the proceedings as excited host and former champion Rona Lisa Peretti. She also maintains an appealing chemistry with the delightfully droll Errik Hood as Vice Principal Panch. The outstanding Hannah Berry is truly heartbreaking as shy bookworm Olive Ostrovsky, who enters the competition without parental support. Berry has the audience rooting for Olive at the outset when she tenderly sings “My Friend, The Dictionary.” Matthew Smith lets loose with hilarious abandon as the persnickety William “Magic Foot” Barfee, a whiz with an attitude. David Thomas, a good fit as eccentric underdog Leaf Coneybear, brings engaging subtlety to “I’m Not That Smart.” Bobby Mitchum, in his Playhouse debut, sums up the distressed Chip Tolentino with a funny, audience-friendly take on “My Unfortunate Erection.” Charity Farrell winningly returns to the Playhouse as overachiever Marcy Park and delivers a luminously carefree rendition of “I Speak Six Languages.” Lindsay Sherman, clothed in cute polka dots by costumer Erin Winslow, exudes a perfect amount of spunk and desperation as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre. As comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney, Muse Machine alum David Stone finally has a role that suits his powerfully soulful tenor. He joins Berry and Derusha for an incredibly passionate, spine-tingling, show-stopping version of “The I Love You Song” that feels as if Finn wrote it just for them.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues through Sunday, February 13 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 60 minutes. Act Two: 53 minutes. Audience participation is encouraged. Tickets are $10-$15. The musical, which contains adult language and themes, is not recommended for children under the age of 13. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit www.daytonplayhouse.org