Sunday, December 06, 2009

Bee happy

Several of my friends who watched earlier runs of Atlantis Productions' staging of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee had nothing but good things to say about it, so despite my disappointment over the last Atlantis show I saw (Spring Awakening), I still decided to go see the Bee. And as luck would have it, the tickets we got were for "Adult Night", which added a naughty element of fun to what turned out to be a very funny and thoroughly entertaining musical.

A smart, poignant yet light-hearted story about growing pains, the Bee revolves around 6 overachieving kids competing in, well, the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Each aspires to win the spelling bee for his/her own personal reasons (and some, not for their own), but the usual (and some not so usual) circumstances that make puberty a trial make winning far more complicated than spelling difficult words correctly. In this bee, the kids learn that "life is pandemonium", but there's much more to it, and much more to themselves, than winning and losing.

The Bee is staged in an interactive way that makes the audience part of the play, as the audience of the spelling bee. Also, 2 people from the audience plus 2 celebrity guests are called onstage to actually participate in the spelling bee as contestants, which offers opportunities for the cast to poke fun at these outsiders and provide more laughs. For this performance, we got Ana Capri and Toffee Calma, who weren't really all that dynamic or spontaneous (and I wished we could have gotten some A-listers instead-- Mommy Dionisia perhaps?).

But no matter, for the real stars of the show were the fabulous cast. Whatever the cast of Spring Awakening lacked in talent, the cast of the Bee made up for in spades. All the actors who played the 6 kids shone in each of their roles: Felix Rivera was adorable as boy scout and defending champion Chip, whose solo "My Unfortunate Erection" was one of the more memorable songs of the show; Pheona Baranda made political activist Logainne's lisp seem natural, not cartoonish; Johan dela Fuente showed remarkable versatility playing the playful Leaf (AND doubling as one of Logainne's gay dads); Sheila Valderrama-Martinez was perfect as Little Miss Perfect Marcy (well, almost perfect-- girl's gotta work on her cartwheels); Carla Guevara-La Forteza transformed into a shy, little girl as sweet Olive; and Lorenz Martin was delightfully snide and slobby as William Barfee (that's pronounced BarFAY, mind you).

The actors who played the adults were excellent as well: Cathy Azanza was brilliant as the effusive Mrs. Peretti, the emcee of the bee; Joel Trinidad was hilarious as Vice Principal Panch, the "pronouncer"; and Noel Rayos was outstanding as Mitch, the "Comfort Counselor" (AND the other gay dad). I can't remember the last time I couldn't find fault with a single person in a play's cast, and for a nitpicker like me, that's saying something. This ensemble was pretty special, displaying tremendous talent in both acting and singing (their dancing was quite good too!), and I really enjoyed all their performances.

To cap everything off, as a holiday treat, after curtain call the entire cast rendered a medley of Christmas carols, showcasing their superb vocal skills (props especially to Noel Rayon!). This was certainly a nice way to end what was overall a wonderfully charming show. I highly recommend anyone who hasn't watched the Bee to catch it during this December run-- even if there won't be another "Adult Night", the Christmas medley is a neat bonus to an already fantastic production. Bravo, Atlantis.


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