The reviews are in for Theater Latte Da’s Spelling Bee

We have a lot of great shows out there this week Penumbra’s Two Trains Running, Guthrie’s The Burial at Thebes, and now Theater Latte Da’s Spelling Bee all earning rave reviews.

Theater Latte Da’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through October 30 at the McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. These reviewers agree that while this might not be a deep, character-driven musical, it is a whole lot of fun.

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The contestants of Theater Latte Da’s “Spelling Bee”

Photo by Michal Daniel

From Dominic P. Papatola at the Pioneer Press:

You don’t have to grade on a curve to give Theater Latte Da’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” an “A.”

The production – rechristened “The 25th Annual Seven-County Metro Area Spelling Bee” for its month-long run at the Ordway Center’s McKnight Theatre – bounces along with snappy fun, a score that is tuneful and original-sounding and a well-woven set of performances that capture both the humor and the heartbreak of being a square-peg person in a round-hole world.

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Mary Fox as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre

Photo by Michal Daniel

From Graydon Royce at the Star Tribune:

Theater Latté Da has reclaimed the wit of this musical, written by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin, in the intimate McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center. The production, directed and choreographed by Peter Rothstein and Michael Matthew Ferrell, reveals the endearing vulnerabilities of teenagers whose mettle is tested under the hot glare of competition. We dare not laugh at Schwarty’s lisp, or Olive’s mousy self-image, because they want to win so badly and how can you laugh at kids doing their level best?

This does not mean the six competitors and the three adults who proctor the bee are not funny. But this humor resists the hollow amusement of vaudevillian pretense and touches the heart.

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Cat Brindisi and Joseph R. Pyfferoen In Theater Latté Da’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

Photo by Michal Daniel

From John Olive at HowWasTheShow.com:

…[Composer William] Finn and [writer Rachel] Sheinkin fail to explore these characters in a truly satisfying way. Too often they fall back on camp and shallow comic effect. As a result we don’t care enough about the triumphs of the characters and we don’t really invest in the contest. The play certainly amuses – indeed, it’ll have you laughing constantly – but in the end it doesn’t compel.

The actors delight. The danger with a show like this is that the performances can become campy and ungrounded, ends in themselves, and it is greatly to the credit of directors Peter Rothstein and Michael Matthew Ferrell (the show, oddly, credits two) that they are able to reign the cast in and keep the show focused and crisply paced.

Have you seen “Spelling Bee?” If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.

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