The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is one of those small musicals that achieves more than seems possible. Comparisons to A Chorus Line are inevitable. Spelling Bee is about a competition, most of the songs center on a single character, and the characters are what drive the show. Spelling Bee's characters are, naturally, mostly children, but performed by adults. The show is also as adult as A Chorus Line; there are moments that are certainly are not suitable for young children. The show grew out of an improvisational comedy sketch, so there is some element of stereotyping, particularly in the character of Marcy Park, the Asian-American overachiever. Otherwise, however, William Finn's lyrics, based on Rachel Sheinkin's book, do give each character as much dimension as possible. The singers in this original cast recording are excellent at bringing each character to life (with the one small complaint that there is entirely too much lisping in their attempts to be more childlike). Especially good is Dan Folger as William Barfée. His "Magic Foot" song is a happy, serendipitous blend of Finn's music and lyrics, and Folger's delivery, which is oh-so-appropriate for something as unlikely to happen in real life as a production number. Another highlight is "The I Love You Song," the trio for one of the entrants and her absent parents. Celia Keenan-Bolger is affecting as the girl without being affected, just as the song is touching without being sentimental. The dramatic showdown at the end, "Second," is not a showdown at all, but nonetheless effectively captures the tension of the contest. Finn and the cast make the most of the modest premise of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with enjoyable results.
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AllMusic Review by Patsy Morita
|The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, musical|