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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

September 18, 2010

Event: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Venue: Creative Cube @ Lasalle College of the Arts
Run: 14th Sept – 18th Sept 2010

Don’t let the seemingly low-budget production and its lack of publicity fool you.

Because what it lacked in grandeur and glitz, it certainly more than made up for in quality and warmth.

This production of the Broadway musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (which was once directed by James Lapine, no less) is a thoroughly delightful and entertaining effort by the students, staff and alumni of the Lasalle College of the Arts Musical Theatre Programme, and once again reminded me of the sheer beauty and power of the musical theatre artform.

It was staged in a relatively small venue known as the “Creative Cube” at Laselle, but they certainly used it very well and squeezed every last ounce of usability from the venue.

It was as if the production filled up the entire room and more, and you could easily envision it being translated to greater and more spectacular effect at larger venues.

This was definitely one of those productions that far exceeded my expectations, and sadly, I can’t really remember the last time I said that for any production I’d watched.

The cast were mostly (I’m guessing) American, and they were very very good, both in comic delivery and singing ability.

Something has to be said about how they seem to excel especially in the musical theatre artform, and objectively speaking, if their roles were played by us locals I doubt if the delivery would have been as good.

I’m not trying to put down local talent, but I’m just saying that for this particular production, I don’t think Asians would have been able to pull it off as convincingly.

It’s also because the book was very American in nature (the “Spelling Bee” is, after all, an American institution, and musical theatre is, after all, an American artform), and because many of the lines had a distinct American flavour to them, if it were played by any other people, I doubt they would have been able to carry off the lines as convincingly.

While all the actors were fantastic, I thought Simon Thompson was mesmerising in his portrayal of the geek named William Barfee.

The premise of the musical is simple: The entire show takes place in the gymnasium of a typical American high school, where the spelling bee contest is held.

Each of the contestants has their own bizarre quirks and idiosyncrasies (as would be expected of a comedy musical), and as they each take their turns to go up to spell, they would inevitably reveal insights into their personal lives.

One by one, the contestants would be eliminated, until we arrive at the eventual winner.

But it is not merely a contest that we’re witnessing.

We’re also gaining valuable glimpses into the contestants’ lives – their hopes, dreams and insecurities – and when the contest ends, we’re made to feel as if we’ve all taken this long emotional journey with the entire cast.

Overall, a very enjoyable night of musical theatre and you would be hard-pressed to find such delightful musical theatre offerings in Singapore.

Sometimes you just have to search hard enough.

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