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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

September 18, 2010
by

Director: Darren Yap

Cast: Halimah Kyrgios, William Ledbetter, Tim Garner, Thomas Ragen, Matilda Chua, Leanne Ansell, Simon Thompson, Kristy Griffin, Rachel Marley

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How does one actually make a musical out of a spelling bee competition? The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee did it.

Performed by the LASALLE College of the Arts Musical Theatre Program students, this Broadway musical was set in an American gymnasium, as re-created in the confines of the Creative Cube space at LASALLE, a relatively small venue but with superb lighting set up. It is the annual spelling bee contest at county level, after which the winner will go on to take part in the state/national competition. The winners (or runner ups in some cases) from the districts come together to pit themselves against each other. However, it’s not just like that. The story brings out the feelings and insecurities of the participants; those trying to fit into the community, those faced with being looked down upon (by who else but their own family), those who are stressed in “meeting expectations”, those with puberty woes, and those who just want to prove something, crying for attention really. But the true message of it all is that it doesn’t matter if they won the spelling bee or not, even though it seemed so very important at that point. But they all turned out well eventually as they grew up and were most importantly, happy.

An interesting aspect of the show was the invitation of 4 of the real audience to take part in the competition. My friend and I were wondering if the people were really at random, but I guess maybe some were, or they could be students whom the people knew. (good thing my friend and I were sitting right at the back in a corner) Well, in any case, I think they were prompted when to “fail” in their spelling (e.g. how can a local not know how to spell “makan”?).

Spelling bees are a very American thing, so the choice to do a casting with mainly Caucasians, except one (which was necessary) was a good thing to make it more convincing, although I think the cast was mainly made up of Australians. The ‘use it in a sentence’ parts were hilarious as the judge gave ridiculous or useless examples of the words to be spelled. There were even Singlish words given, mainly for the audience participants, e.g. “makan” and “lah”, although it seemed pretty weird. The songs came in mainly when the “kids” sang about their life. The cast did a good job as they needed to act, sing, dance (split, for one) and also switch roles (for some), not forgetting these are students. Within the confined space, the choreography was very important, which turned out well.

It was a rather entertaining production, with good potential.

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