5 reasons to see ‘Spelling Bee’ at La Comedia Dinner Theatre

La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro presents a delightful, intimate and cohesive production of composer-lyricist William Finn and librettist Rachel Sheinkin’s 2005 Tony Award-winning musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

In a refreshing departure from the La Comedia norm of producing classic musical theatre, this contemporary, tuneful “Bee” centers on six socially awkward adolescents, played by adults, gathering at a regional championship. During the highly competitive affair, which features audience participation, the group ultimately realizes the value of friendship, perseverance, purpose and self-worth.

Directed and choreographed by Chris Beiser, who spearheaded an excellently enchanting production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” last month, here are five reasons to see this breezy, smart, naughty and touching show, which is intended for adults.

TERRIFIC LEADERSHIP WITHIN THE BEE

Karie-Lee Sutherland and Jason S. Lakes respectively oversee the bee as moderator and former champion Rona Lisa Peretti and stern judge Vice-Principal Douglas Panch. Sutherland, a La Comedia veteran delivering one of her finest contemporary roles and vocal performances, lovingly captures Peretti’s warm, no-nonsense persona. The funny, authoritative Lakes masters the comedic nuances that enable Panch to appear unstable yet appealing. Both are effectively joined in leadership by Tyler Kirk, whose imposing portrayal of tough ex-convict-turned-comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney is appropriately nonchalant even in his blasé distribution of juice boxes to the losing competitors.

THE FOOT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

La Comedia newcomer Christopher Norton shines as disheveled, nerdy William Barfee, consumed by the idea that his “magic foot” helps him spell. Using his tall, stockier physicality to his advantage, Norton leads upbeat ensemble number “Magic Foot” to the hilt and also convincingly displays William’s sensitive side toward the conclusion.

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THE FLUSTERED RETURNING CHAMPION

Vocally strong Wright State University musical theatre graduate Kyle Krichbaum charms as Chip Tolentino, winner of the 24th annual iteration whose concentration is shattered by pubescent urges beyond his control. His hilarious, audience-friendly, lyrically cautious rendition of “Chip’s Lament” totally hits the mark after intermission.

KOOKY EMOTIONAL COMPLEXITY

Eva Bower (timid Olive Ostrovsky), Allison Gabert (overachiever Marcy Park who speaks six languages and walks with calculated precision), Madeline Nichole (go-getter Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniierre), and Jonathan Pendergrass (gleefully eccentric Leaf Coneybear) are a wonderfully kooky quartet possessing a clear understanding of wounds at home, expertly revealed in Finn’s score. In particular, Bower’s “My Friend, The Dictionary,” Pendergrass’ “I’m Not That Smart” and Nichole’s “Woe is Me” are heartfelt standouts.

THE SIGNATURE MOMENT

Late in Act 2, Olive imagines being reunited with her parents, who are unable to attend the bee. “The I Love You Song,” one of the best numbers in Finn’s repertoire, is a heartbreaking, melodically gorgeous and soaring depiction of Olive’s desire for support and validation. Staged by Beiser with beautiful simplicity and performed with soulful yearning by Bower, Sutherland and Krichbaum, the song serves as a poignant reminder that competitions and titles are fleeting. At the end of the day, to be loved – to be truly embraced by a family capable of uplifting you and recognizing your potential – is all that matters, especially in the eyes of children.

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HOW TO GO

What: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

Where: La Comedia Dinner Theatre, 765 W. Central Ave., Springboro

When: Through Sept. 11; Thursday and Friday matinee and evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday brunch and evening.

Cost: $37-$78

More info: 937-746-4554 or lacomedia.com

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