By Marlene S. Gaylinn

Anyone who has attended a public school, particularly a large one in New York City, will recall some eccentric students and administrators.   At Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” it’s lots of fun to relive certain school experiences because many of us witnessed these nerdy characters first hand.  We were young.  They made us laugh.  However, we didn’t give much thought to what made these people tick.  Yet, as adults, we sometimes wonder what became of those strange kids who stood out from the crowd.

This show’s material, which was originally conceived by Rebecca Feldman and Jay Reiss and developed into a Broadway musical with lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin, treads a fine line concerning ridicule.  You will laugh but there are parts that are also tender and touching.  It’s the loving way these stereotypes are presented and the message that winning contests are not the only measures of success, that makes this show a winner.

At the Cabaret, we have the spelling overachievers brilliantly played by Kenneth Francoeur, Lauren Ford, Kevin Reed, Andrew Hendrick, Kiyo Takami, and Julie Benco.  The two wacky, school administrators are Maria Vee and Richard Rowan, and the former delinquent, school guidance counselor is DaRon Williams. 

 Under the stage direction of Tobi Silver, this production gets off to a slow start but picks up fairly quickly.  Part of the problem is the sound system and the clarity of the words.  Vee and Rowan are somewhat weak in their characterizations and delivery while Williams fits right into the rhythm and swing of things.  Enhancing the production is the return of Stan Wietrzychowski and his musicians: Aaron Smith, Gary Ruggiero and Gabriel Nappi.  The lively, mayhem choreography is rendered by Lisa Maietta.  Hugh Hallinan is in charge of the lighting and Kevin Reed produced the scenic design.  In one scene, the projected Taj Mahal and its water reflection during sunset was simply stunning.

The Downtown Cabaret is once again producing its own shows. We hope that this trend continues to attract popular audiences.  So, pack some food, reserve a table, and enjoy the fun.

Plays through June 27.  Call 203.576.1636 for tickets and information.

This article appears inJune's "On CT Theatre>"





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