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John Burland reviews our production of ‘Spelling Bee’

Posted on 12th May 2015 by BrassNeck

Well, this is certainly a show with a difference as I discovered when I was asked to “volunteer” as one of the four audience members who take part in the show in the first half.

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The contestants

Whether spelling is your forte or not, you will love watching BrassNeck Theatre’s production where a slightly dysfunctional cast of adults take on the roles of even quirkier adolescents. Each contestant in one of America’s favourite pastimes, a spelling bee, is determined to spell their way to the top when they can claim the trophy for best speller at the ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’. And as mentioned above, to involve the audience, four members each night are invited to participate also.

BrassNeck Theatre have produced some great shows over the six years they have now been in existence – classics such as ‘Whistle down the Wind’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ or the timeless ‘Little Women’ plus the fabulous play ‘Calendar Girls’ all played to sell-out audiences. Recent years have also brought to Yeadon Town Hall the cult classic ‘RENT’ and the hilarious ‘Avenue Q’. And ‘Spelling Bee’ will now also rank amongst the great repertoire they have put together in this short period of time.

‘Spelling Bee’ is a show that puts a smile on everyone’s faces. It features some great singing and some superb acting from the nine individuals who make up the cast of six contestants, the Vice Principal and his assistant and Mitch Mahoney, the comfort counsellor. These six young people in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.

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Richard Lloyd as William Barfée

‘Spelling Bee’ was nominated for six Tony awards, winning two of them and this small cast appear to  love every moment of being on stage in this weird yet wonderful production where some improvisation brings a slightly different performance each night. It even included references to the recent General Election and former party leaders resigning. Personally, I saw a different side to this production, being on stage for a good part of the first half as one of the contestants who are given instructions before they take part, such as asking for a definition of the word to be spelt and also for it to be used in a sentence. It was great fun and I am pleased to say that I was the last of the audience members to be eliminated, having spelt five words correctly, which got progressively harder as the competition went along.

I must take my hat off though to the nine performers, all of whom were brilliant. Richard Lloyd stole the show for me as William Barfée, the man with the ‘Magic Foot’ – you have to see the show to understand that reference – but the other members – Bruce Sturrock as the Vice Principal, Caroline Bayfield as Rona Lisa Peretti his glamorous assistant, Phil Yeadon as Mitch Mahoney the comfort counsellor, and the five contestants – Lisa Simpson as Olive Ostrovsky, Lauren Clarke as Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierrre, Emily Taylor as Marcy Park, Adam Folkard as Leaf Coneybear and Ben Tomlinson as Charlito “Chip” Tolentino all were equally outstanding.

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Lisa Simpson as Olive Ostrovsky

I loved the music, particularly The I Love You Song, featuring Lisa, Phil and Caroline, Magic Foot featuring Richard, and the whole cast number of Pandemonium.

Royston Bayfield, the Director, Tom Kyle the Musical Director and Donna Woodman have done a superb job with this production which is slick, funny and will have you in fits of laughter at times.

Audiences in the stalls are seated at tables, cabaret style where they can enjoy a drink whilst they watch this fabulous production. Do try and get to see it this week. You will certainly not be disappointed.

To make sure of getting the best seats, call the box office on: 0113 2505011 or book online.

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