Sooner Theatre presents hilarious and occasionally poignant 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' 

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Sooner Theatre/OU School of Musical Theatre
101 E. Main, Norman

In just a few short years, Sooner Theatre has gone from a venue that only booked a handful of shows a year, mainly touring acts, to a first-rate community theater producing consistently great shows with its own thriving academy.

After having directed the University of Oklahoma's amazing "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and starring in Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre's highly entertaining "The Santaland Diaries" last year, Shawn Churchman directs a cast of OU students and professional actors to create yet another success with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

The 2005 Tony Award winner tells the story of six young people, all outsiders on the cusp of puberty, with two things in common: their love of spelling and a desire to win. Overseen by adults with their own issues, the cast of kids learns the value of winning and losing, and other life lessons as well, during the course of the high stakes bee.

For the most part, the script succeeds in its mix of quirky characters, offbeat humor and moments of personal discovery. The end result is a really fun, but occasionally off-balance show. At times, it feels like the writers were trying a little too hard to appeal to a target audience of National Public Radio listeners.

The strong cast includes Chris Allen, doing a good job as one of the less interesting characters, well-adjusted Boy Scout Chip Tolentino, whose biggest problem is a common one for pubescent boys. The song "Chip's Lament" detailing his predicament is a highlight of the show.

In a performance that feels a little soft on characterization, but remains lovable, Ryan Fitzgerald plays Leaf Coneybear, the easily distracted black sheep in a family of overachieving ex-hippies. Saddled with some of the most strained material, a speech  impediment, and a wholly silly and what looks to be painful hairstyle, Kristen Korb plays Logainne, the daughter with two dads and too many expectations.

Meredith Tyler delivers a restrained performance that pays off as the multilingual, abused overachiever Marcy. As comfort counselor and paroled ex-con Mitch Mahoney, Jamard Richardson shines with great comic timing and amazing vocal chops.

Lisa Fox is solid as former bee winner and real-estate agent extraordinaire Miss Peretti.
Kristina Love and Ryan Wood knock it out of the park in the lead roles of Olive Ostrovsky and William Barfee. Olive is beautiful, brainy, kind, lonely and believable. Wood strikes a perfect balance as William, making sure there's a hint of sweetness and vulnerability even in his most obnoxious moments.

The vocal performances could be tighter overall, but the energy is consistently high. One of the standout aspects is the wonderful score, executed tightly here by Greg Hoepfner on piano and Josh Bowman on drums. The show's choreography is fun without being too showy, and Jay C. Shardt's set design ingeniously makes use of the theater's back wall to help create the school gymnasium set.

"Spelling Bee" is a must-see for Normanites, and well worth the drive for others. "?Eric Webb

The cast of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

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