We were back at the Forum studio theatre for the opening night of “Spelling Bee”.The musical is the first production by On The Mark Theatre Company, created by long time Tip Top Productions Director/Musical Director, Simon Phillips.
Originally shown on Broadway in 2005 the play tells the tale of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the eager young contestants each with their own varying backstories. The set features an American flag and the topical script comes complete with references to the President Trump, and Mexico, with audience members told to turn off their cell phones. I was not familiar with the musical and did not know what to expect, but there are many familiar performers in the cast. .
Providing the structure to the spelling contest are the two hosts, the amazingly dry witted Stuart Evans as Vice Principal Panch and Tip Top regular Annie Howarth as former spelling Bee winner Miss Peretti. I believe Stuart Evans was in “Bouncers” the first tip top show I saw back in the tumultuous autumn of 2013, and the radiant Annie is always a graceful and confident performer. Also well known to us was Rob Lyons, once again with his customary American accent (last used in Grease ) and a willingness to play the fool. The song about his troublesome erection was a comic highlight, and his later return with a surprise cameo as a religious icon was very well received by the youthful audience. The recurrence of these performers across so many shows over the years is a testament to the talent in the borough. It must be hard sometimes when critics say “we have no theatre” in Chester. For sure the studio theatre doesn’t have the best facilities in the world but the shows are good enough to take you away from a troubled world and immerse you in the music. Director Simon Philips leads the small orchestra who provide live music on the night and are visible to the audience.
The play is a pacy 90 minutes with no interval, as one by one the contestants are eliminated via a series of amusing and rousing songs, as their character quirks and personalities emerge. The contestants in the Bee are supplemented by 4 members of the audience- whom I assume were in on the act as they were capable performers even joining in with the dance scenes!
Whilst the structure of the play appears initially simple, the use of flashbacks to the participants earlier lives adds variety, as well as a sequence where time is sped up and then slowed down. At the end of a pacy 90 minutes the winner of the Bee is revealed and audiences will leave with a guaranteed smile on their face.
Spelling Bee comes highly recommended from us at @ShitChester and with the short run ending on Sat 4th Feb I encourage you to go and see it!