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Review: Like its characters, musical 'Spelling Bee' in Papillion is odd yet lovable

Review: Like its characters, musical 'Spelling Bee' in Papillion is odd yet lovable

Check out five movies filmed in the Good Life State including Nomadland.

At first glance, the characters in the summer musical at the Papillion La Vista Community Theatre seem to be refugees from the island of misfit toys.

As you get comfortable, however, the quirks, stresses and backstories that typify the competitors and moderators of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” become hilarious, endearing and heart-warming.

Consider these speller biographies:

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The cast of the Papillion La Vista Community Theatre’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which runs through Saturday at the SumTur Amphitheater.

Logianne (Hannah Rembert), who has two overbearing dads that put the S-T-R-E-S-S in spelling;

Leaf Coneybear (Jordan McAuliffe), the hyper-kinetic child of hippies;

Chip Tolentino (John Lim), a clean-cut, enthusiastic Boy Scout with ill-timed hormones;

William Barfee (Christopher Layne), who only has one usable nostril and employs an unusual spelling prompt;

Marcy Park (Katy Kepler), a Catholic school-girl overachiever;

Olive Ostrosky (Alexandra Zaleski), arguably the most quirk-free, who yearns for her absentee parents and says the dictionary is her best friend.

And that doesn’t even count the adults behind the bee, who have issues of their own.

They’re all fully realized in director Suzanne Withem’s wonderful cast. The adults (and near adults) who play kids are energetic and believable. And the rest of the ensemble — Julianna Cooper as moderator Rona Lisa Peretti, Justin Parsley as Vice Principal Douglas Panch and Jeff Garst as Mitch Mahoney, an ex-con who’s helping out at the bee as part of his community service — is just as good.

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Marcy Park (played by Katy Kepler) in Papillion La Vista Community Theatre's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

Several of the actors, in fact, play more than one part with ease. And they all shine on the musical numbers, as well — a couple of my favorites were “Magic Foot” by Layne and a ballad, “The I Love You Song” by Garst, Cooper and Zaleski.

Choreographer Nadia Ra’Shaun gave them lots of cool moves that they executed well.

The show, with music and lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin, premiered on Broadway in 2005. It grew out of an improvisational play, and it shows: A series of vignettes and songs that feel like sketch comedy convey the plot.

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Olive Ostrovsky (played by Alex Zaleski) at Papillion La Vista Community Theatre's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

Quirks extend beyond the characters: Four audience members are invited to join the spellers each night; the songs and dialogue feature up-to-the-minute current events references, such as voting rights; and you’re in for a surprise at intermission.

Accompaniment is provided by a keyboard, reed instruments, a cello and percussion and is led by conductor Boston Reid, who interacts with the performers, as well. The group creates just enough sound.

One quibble: Mics could have been stronger; at times, the funny lyrics were lost on me because I couldn’t hear the singers very well on preview night.

It also dragged in some places, but that, no doubt, has improved by now.

You have four more chances, Thursday through Saturday, to see “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the SumTur Amphitheater, 11691 S. 108th St. Tickets are $18 for VIPs, $14 for reserved seats and $10 for general admission. Tickets are available at papillion.org/175/SumTur-Amphitheater.

It’s going to be T-O-A-S-T-Y this weekend, but the theater cools off nicely in the evening and the show doesn’t start until 8.

You won’t be sorry if you come and sit for a spell.


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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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