THEATER REVIEW: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Roofers.
By Mizaru and Stuart Wainstock
On their media night May 28, I made my way out to Roofers in central Seoul to catch the locally produced musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. For those who haven’t heard of this spelling bee, it’s a one act musical comedy that had a great run on Broadway and keeps on running in various parts of the theater world. The exact world of the play is set at the Putnam County Spelling Bee (in theory probably somewhere in a sensitive Mid-west America), and includes 10 performers as the contestants (4 improvs from the audience), a moderator, a judge, and an ex-convict serving as the official “comfort counselor.”
Living abroad makes live entertainment in your native language always close to a craving and I had been very curious to see what the Seoul Players theater group had to offer after an unbearable night of tomfoolery at a recent Seoul City Improve gig (article here), so Roofers again it is. First off, the childlike aura of the show is in itself refreshment. I mean the day-by-day grind of life in East Asia where adults usually relate to each other like meat-puppets can be quickly shaken off when you watch these spastic adolescents create their alternate world of theatrical cute-muppets. The air around the taut performance of Spelling Bee is combustible and you can sense and then watch how the child-age and adult-cast characters will blast off, hyperventilate and finally meltdown right in front of everyone in buckshot range of the production. Of course a spelling bee is a set and practiced for competition amongst kids who are striving to: distinguish themselves and grab their share of attention and keep their parents love by meeting their parent’s expectations. So the audience is let into this inner world skillfully and by the end when all is unraveled and revealed and tied together again with blue and pink bow-ribbons, well, it’s like that famous line from a dead reviewer from New York, “I’m a-Freud of these people.”
Anyway the dynamics of the space at Roofers was a pleasant surprise and when I got there the crowd was settling and the play good to go. The seating was full with a solid mix of local media types, army base personnel, as well as artsy English teachers in the know, and even a few Korean couples. Before the show began there was a call for volunteers from the audience to actually participate in the spelling bee competition. Although I was asked, I kindly declined and so four other willing individuals agreed and were quickly briefed on how they would be participating. When they were all finished about 15 minutes into the musical you could see how it transformed them to be part of this production even only as temporaries. I strongly encourage anyone to say yes to this opportunity to be in the show.
The show itself was about 2 hours in length with a 15 minute “snack break” in the middle. There was a wonderful mixture of adult humor and song. The six main contestants in Spelling Bee are well delineated against themselves. And in spite of the usually very true conclusion that the performers of a local theater company spend too much time vamping with each other, this Seoul Players production is able to avoid that and all histrionics from the cast actually goes for telling the story. At times it was a bit strained to hear and see the performance because the stage was not elevated nor were the chairs, so I suggest getting there early for a seat towards the front.
Each of the actors had a very unique role, each with their own sense of humor. My favorite was Leaf Coneybear who was played by Lance Noe. Throughout the entire performance Noe was on point. It was great fun watching him, even when he was not the center of attention. There were little nuances that he nailed while he was seated with the other spelling bee participants. When the spotlight was on him, I couldn’t stop laughing. His mannerisms, gestures, and versatility were spot on.
If you are looking for something inexpensive, fun and a great way to start the night out, then for sure check out Seoul Player’s, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The show is at Roofers in Itaewon and you can go out on the roof after the show and hang out with Seoul Players. Tickets for the show are ₩10,000 and reservations are suggested. You can reserve tickets at email@example.com. The performance runs through June 13th and is performed on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 P.M. and on Sundays at 5 P.M.