The historic El Portal Theatre’s Monroe Forum is the best place to “Bee.” The intimate atmosphere puts the audience right in the middle of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Kelrik Productions presents the Tony-winning musical that captures the wild humor and heart found in watching childhood angst played out with fun songs and energetic comedy.
The “Bee” is a family show that spotlights competitive pubescent kids and the odd grown-ups who oversee the spelling championship. The six “youngsters” are perfectly cast and fulfill every geeky stereotype with gusto. Erik Scott Romney embodies gloomy William Barfee (a running joke name) and his “magic spelling foot.” Giving the greatest nuance to her performance, Kimberly Hessler is heartbreaking as the lonely Olive Ostrovsky; Nicole Santiago-Barredo nails the fierce over-achiever as the “I Speak Six Languages” Marcy Park; Travis Dixon excels as eager-beaver Boy Scout Chip Tolentino; Craig McEldowney blossoms as awkward flower-child Leaf Coneybear; and Leigh Golden hits all the right notes as liberal crusader Logainne.
The peculiar collection of adults also shines. Emily King Brown shows off her powerful voice as former Bee-champion and moderator Rona Lisa Perretti. Volatile Chuck McCollum plays the easily provoked vice-principal Douglas Panch. And John Devereaux is way-cool as Mitch Mahoney, the comfort counselor who sends the losers on their way with a song and a juice box. Always a highlight is the sendoff for the spellers recruited from the audience.
The show is a triumph for director Kristin Towers-Rowles. Her energetic staging of the musical numbers infuses the show with oomph. Also among the “Bee” winners are Musical Direction by Joe Lawrence, Samantha Whidby’s Choreography, Set Designer Erik Austin, Costume Designer Keith Wetzel, and Lighting Designer Ryan Manus.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through March 1 at the El Portal’s Monroe Forum located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For tickets call (818) 508-4200, or online elportaltheatre.com. Performances are Friday and Saturday Evenings at 8 p.m. Ticket prices are $30 for all seats. The Spelling Bee is the first show of Kelrik Production’s 2014 Discover Season, dedicated to education entertainment. Other shows include Pinkalicious and Disney’s Tarzan. For information, visit kelrikproductions.org.