Theater Review: ‘Spelling Bee’ both moving and funny

03/08/2011 5:09 AM |
Michael Hipp, as Leaf Coneybear, spells the names of South American rodents in a scene from 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck. The musical continues through March 20.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Michael Hipp, as Leaf Coneybear, spells the names of South American rodents in a scene from 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck. The musical continues through March 20.

There is a late Valentine, cheery as a bouquet and tasty as chocolate, waiting for you at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck: The Tony Award-winning “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin.

Beautiful melodies, intriguing harmonies, skillful choreography by Michael Disher and fabulous accompaniment by Robert Peterson are all combined under the able direction of Ken Rowland, who needs no spangly curtain or glittery drop as long as he has the talented, inventive lighting director Charlie Scheer.

More than all that, the script shows how competition can turn into a struggle for survival and how a prize can become not merely a statuette, but life or death. That’s what good theater does. It entertains but also suggests and informs. The contestants learn that winning isn’t everything and losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.

To handle all this takes courage and skill. The old joke has it that an actor’s last words on his deathbed were, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” If you reach for crimson, you may attain pink. If you play to the back of the house, you may reach row M. If your character is “exuberant,” you may project “happy.” Good comic actors don’t know the meaning of timidity. In the TV series “Glee,” the characters’ jealousies, dreads and longings have the strength of undiluted poison.

NFCT’s production of “Spelling Bee” was produced by the capable, thoughtful and personable Margaret Motto. It opens promisingly with the assured presence and magnificent singing of Kelli Baumann, followed by a generous, believable performance by Daniel Yaiullo, one of those performers who make you miss them when they exit and elated when they return.

Amy Rowland and Jessica Raven give two totally different characterizations, both of which please and move the audience equally.

Michael Hipp is in a class by himself. He is enchanting as a singer and as a comic. James Stevens, too, is splendid, singing beautifully and handling comedy skillfully.

Amanda Mouzakes and Ryan Beodeker provide accomplished comic turns as well as some tender, intimate moments that are very moving.

David Markel is an authoritative mainstay of the production and when, at the end, he makes a generous, humane gesture, it is enormously affecting.

Earlier this month, “Watson” the supercomputer won the TV game show “Jeopardy.” It beat two humans without ever comprehending or understanding the semantic content of its answers. How much an actor adds to the semantic content of his lines is usually in direct proportion to how much we in the audience enjoy the play.

‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., and Sundays, 2:30 p.m., through March 20.
For tickets, visit nfct.com or call 631-298-NFCT (6328).

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  • Guess SWR is trying to promote their players going on to play college at some level which is great but should not be misrepresented as signing day for all these players