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LA Theater Review

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

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Being a spelling champion may win you a trophy, but it casts you into the hazy fringe of social acceptability, especially in elementary school. The six contestants in this semifinal spell-off are recognizable from your own days in that pre-adolescent quagmire, but each is so endearing that you're rooting for every candidate.

There's Chip Tolentino (Tom Zohar), a former bee winner and go-getter Boy Scout. Next comes Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Cassie Silva), president of the Gay-Straight Alliance with two dads and a well-defined social conscience. Then come Leaf Coneybear (Brett Ryback), a good-natured goof who is surprised he has gotten this far; William Barfee (Daniel Tatar), an allergy-driven brainiac who spells with his foot; Marcy Park (Lana McKissack), matching Mary Poppins as practically perfect; and Olive Ostrovsky (Shanon Mari Mills), adorable in her pink overalls, who confesses she read the dictionary on the toilet.

As for the grownups, attractive Rona Lisa Peretti (Laura Griffith) still proudly remembers her glory days as a winner spelling syzygy. Melvin Abston is an amusing comfort counselor, a parolee doing his community service at the event. Four adults are recruited from the audience and serve the story well, but Vice Principal Panch is born-for-the-part Jason Graae, who delivers most of the hilarity of the show.

Rachel Sheinkin's book is updated to reflect the La Mirada location with topical jokes, and William Finn's music and lyrics still sparkle, adding wit to overlay the tomfoolery. David's O's musical direction is spot-on, and DJ Gray oversees the largely casual and enthusiastic choreography. Beowulf Boritt's colorful gymnasium shows off well on La Mirada's large stage, and Jennifer Caprio's costumes are choice.

The voices of the entire cast are exceptional. Director Jeff Maynard makes the most of the narratives that emerge as the children and adults reflect on winning and losing. Notable is the emotional "The I Love You Song," sung by Mills, Abston, and Griffith.

There are a few lessons to learn from this play about life, but its delightfully natural cast members make it a pleasant sojourn.

Presented by McCoy Rigby Entertainment at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Feb. 6–21. Tue.–Thu., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (562) 944-9801. www.lamiradatheatre.com.

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