The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Bath University Student Musical Society
University Hall, University of Bath
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” – hardly a catchy title for a musical, one could be forgiven for thinking. Catchy it may not be, but it is factual, as the plot revolves around a group of schoolchildren taking part in said orthographic competition (sorry, I’m showing off!). Once again, this does not seem like standard fare for a musical.
However, BUSMS’ production makes you wish that it were.
Director Jonathan Whittaker has put together a remarkable show – at times hysterically funny, at others extremely touching, the cast navigate a challenging script with ease. While the choreography is sometimes slightly cramped, the harmonies are as tight as the chemistry between cast members, and it is impossible to choose my favourite song of the show.
The quality of the ad libs is jaw-dropping – Marcus Johns, as competition judge Vice Principal Panch, is to be particularly commended for his deadpan delivery and impeccable comic timing.
Abby Morell, as his fellow judge and one-time competition winner, is wonderfully endearing – her lines were occasionally delivered a touch quickly, but her performance was touchingly nostalgic.
Alex Stokoe was also beautifully sinister as the ex-con tasked with comforting the eliminated spellers.
Among the children, Suzie Hance as Olive was excellent, forming an easy audience rapport and ably mixing melancholy with an appealing cheekiness.
Tom Burgess’ interpretation of William Barfée is also wonderful, with some of the best one-liners in the script – and his solo number ‘Magic Foot’ is one of the strongest in the production.
Ben Roberts was touchingly awkward and unutterably charming in the role of Leafy Coneybeare – and I don’t just say that because I was chosen out of the audience to be his sister Marigold (more on that in a second).
Anna Hughes played the precocious Logainne well, veering nicely between untimely maturity and childish frustration – although her line delivery was sometimes a tad unclear.
The tense, focused Marcy – played with an enviably straight face by Francesca Germer – was seemingly an oasis of restrained calm until Act II, when she came into her own.
Finally, Harry Graham as the previous year’s winner Chip was a spoilt, arrogant, blustering delight – particularly as he falls in love with Marigold (ahem) half way through Act I, and is disqualified due to a…distracting physical reaction. His number at the start of the second act has to be seen to be believed – as does his brief cameo as Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The lighting is slick and well-planned, the band is cohesive, and the substantial audience participation is managed with great skill. In short, this is an excellent production that starts off the company’s new season with a bang. You will be kicking yourself if you miss it.
The show runs on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 October at 20:00, at the University Hall at the University of Bath
Tickets bookable through the ICIA -phone: 01225 386777 or website: https://www.bath.ac.uk/icia/events/student.php