Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Last week Owen and I went to the Donmar to see their production of William Finn's musical THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE. Believe me, the title is the only memorable thing about it. Why the Donmar has felt the urge to put it on is anyone's business.

Maybe the team responsible for last year's wondrous PASSION - Jamie Lloyd (director), Christopher Oram (set) and Neil Austin (lighting) all felt the urge to do something a bit more lightweight - I don't mind lightweight but this is more soapy bubbleweight - and it didn't last long in my mind before it went *pop*

It typified the worst of recent off-Broadway musicals - a cute idea based on a piece of American life that probably coasted along on the original cast's charm and verve but simply refuses to be anything but filler - and of course have a score which sounds like something Sesame Street would reject as too bloody juvenile.

Here the premise of a High School spelling competition works within those parameters but I am so bloody OVER the idea that anything to do with American High School kids performing in their gymnasiums - be it staging a musical, forming a glee club or here spelling - is worth anything but a cursory glance.

Pepper your cast with geeky but lovable schoolkids and watch them triumph over adversity.

Yawn.There were good things - Steve Pemberton and Katherine Kingsley both had their moments to shine, particularly in their responses to the participants requests to using their given words in a sentence and Christopher Oram has gone to town turning the Donmar into the school gym.

In an idea which betrays it's tiny theatre beginnings, four members of the audience are onstage to take part in the competition.
Oddly enough I felt that as soon as the last one of our audience left the stage - after equipping himself more than well - the show nosedived in my interest as we were just left with the boringly predictable plot. I must say it damns DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and SPAMALOT that Rachel Sheinkin's book for this won the 2005 Tony Award.

As Miss Tallulah Bankhead said "There's less to this than meets the eye".

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