Sunday, January 9

Beef and Boards: 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The stress behind a championship ball game with millions of dollars on the line people understand. But the stress behind a childhood rite of passage such as a spelling bee?

Beef and Boards' Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Rd., opens its 2011 season with the Tony-Award-winning hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Bee does more than teach you how to spell superfluous words. It shares the stress-related issues which occur behind any competition, even those which occur before braces are removed.

Add in the angst of maturing bodies, puppy love, emotionally and physically absent parents, and, well, you get the picture. There is a tender age when parental approval is intermixed with the desire to be liked by one's peers and separate from the family identity to create your own. It occurs approximately the same time as the shedding of childhood security blankets and noticing the opposite sex.

All of this is addressed within the scope of the county spelling bee where six overachievers attempt to prove themselves as more than their school's word geek. Students include B&B veterans Jayson Elliott (SOTM), Sarah Hund (SOTM), Tiana Checchia (Peter Pan), Dominic Sheahan-Stahl (Footloose). Kiyo Takami and Seth Tucker make their debuts.

Although the title would make this seem a family friendly show, I recommend leaving the under-13 aged at home unless you want to explain the meaning of an erection.
Sarah Hund

Hund, who is incapable of turning in a less-than-flawless performance, portrays her character (Logainne) with an added ounce of zest, standing out as the caricature stereotype of the perfectionist.

Calling four audience members on stage creates an opportunity for the performers to shine, challenged by the unexpected from the non-pro participation. They are weeded out one at a time, between singing, dancing and spelling by the cast. I was one of the selected. I am not exactly sure how my name got put on the list, but have narrowed it down to two possible culprits. At first, I declined feeling my role as a critic would be compromised. Then it occurred to me this would be an opportunity afforded few critics: a chance to see the talent up close. So, I acquiesced and joined the cast on stage.
Licia Watson and Paul Hansen

This bird's eye view was helpful as I was able to judge interactively. Although I could never claim to be more than a dilettante, one other audience member could barely be separated from the pros. Dustin, a high school student, actor and former spelling bee participant, provides the most chance for Paul Hansen as Vice Principal Panch to show his ad libbing abilities when he has to pull out a dictionary and find an extra-hard word to finally get Dustin off the stage.

I found that a guilty pleasure after being reprimanded by Hansen's Panch at my table when I didn't understand immediately that I was on his clipboard's list of names. His stern look and no nonsense, "You are due on stage, young lady," reminds me of a certain principal back in school. Yep, I'm still getting "the look."

Jayson Elliott
Although all turned in f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c performances, the Gotta Go spotlight shines brightest on a particular body part. No, not that one...

The Foot.

Elliott's character, William Barfee, is the uptight, shirt-untucked, obnoxious know-it-all, who needs the win to prove to himself that he is as brilliant as he proclaims. As with many competitors, Barfee has a 'trick' to help him win. Some write on their arm, or wear a superhero costume, William spells out the word on the floor using his lucky foot. Never missing a beat, Elliott corrects any, and all, who mispronounce his name, even while walking away or seemingly busy with something else. Stroke after stroke, with that lucky foot, Barfee eliminates his opponents, one by one. Until Olive Ostrovsky.

Tiana Checchia
Olive is portrayed by Checchia with a vulnerability, sweetness and virginal innocence that everything can be made right with words, that all the world would be a rosy place if only everyone would befriend their dictionary.

The pairing of Checchia and Elliott may well be the best match I have seen at B&B. Her sweetness gently slips under Barfee's obnoxious skin opening his vulnerable side, allowing that something, or someone, is more or at least as important as winning. His hesitant look toward her before stepping up to spell his last word demonstrates the talent which makes Elliott a favorite of the Indianapolis audience and this critic.

Bottom Line: Beef and Boards' Bee gives Jayson Elliott a chance to share yet one more aspect of his multifaceted talent with Indianapolis audiences.

Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated columnist, travel writer and theater critic. Catch her as Indy’s Arts & Entertainment Adviser on 93 WIBC and follow her on Twitter @ejmusgrave1 and Facebook.

Gotta Go is published in the following newspapers: South Sider Voice, Indiana Weekender, West Side Community News, New Palestine Reporter, West Indianapolis Community News, Pendleton Times Reporter and Fortville-McCordsville Reporter.

No comments: