Encore Michigan

‘Bee’ at The Barn gets it right

Review June 20, 2019 Bridgette Redman

AUGUSTA, Mich.–The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a cute and quirky show that has a lot to say amid the laughs, the perfect sort of offering for the summer crowds at the Augusta Barn Theatre.

The cast, filled with Barn company favorites along with some of their new apprentices, has fun with the show and invites the audience to laugh along, and even participate.

The musical takes place in a gym, one painted bright yellows and blues in a set designed by Steven Lee Burright. It has all the feel of a secondary school gym from somewhere in middle America. And it is populated by the spelling bee students who could at best be considered misfits in any other world.

Throughout the show as they compete to see who will win the Bee, they reveal the pressures of their lives and what makes them turn to spelling to escape their situations. The show is designed for adults to play the roles of the elementary and junior-high students who are trying to win the trophy and the trip to the national spelling bee in Washington D.C.

Directed by Brendan Ragotzy, the show is filled with fun moments balanced by a real heart that challenges the way we raise our children and the demands that we put on them.

There were some stand-out performances while a few suffered from not making big enough choices with characters who are mean to be big.

Samantha Rickard plays one of three adults in the show, the hostess and the winner of the 3rd annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Rona Lisa Peretti. She immerses herself in the role, presenting an adult who comes across as caring even while being self-absorbed.

Christian Edwards makes William Barfee the speller we love to hate. He’s rude, arrogant, allergic to everything, and constantly pulling out his inhaler. He has a magic foot which he uses to spell words and only eventually reveals his vulnerable side, though perhaps not quite enough to make the ending work as well as it ought to.

Molly Hill is an absolute delight as the politically active, socially aware, type-A Logainne Schwartzandgrubinere, daughter of two neurotic dads who have told her that the world hates losers, so she has to win. The youngest member competing in the Bee, Hill infuses Logainne with energy, gives her a well-performed lisp and makes her sympathetic and believable—even for a character drawn to be over the top.

Cody Edwards brings light and delightful innocence to Leaf Coneybear, a hippie child with “a gentle personality” who lacks the intensity and intelligence of the other competitors but takes pure joy in spelling and being able to participate. The way he moves around the stage with his homemade cape almost convinces you he is about to fly.

Michael Wilson Morgan did a delightful job of coloring each participant with his costumes, emphasizing their unique personalities and quirks.

Ragotzy’s interpretation of the show emphasizes the fun and the energy while only taking moments to dwell on the show’s more serious undercurrents. It’s a production that is cute and thoroughly entertaining.