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On Theater: Another 'Bee' buzzing around local theater scene

July 16, 2012|By Tom Titus
(Photo by Greg Z.…)

It's not unusual for two local theaters to tackle the same project in one production period — I once caught three performances of "Steel Magnolias" in a six-week span. What is strange, however, is two theaters putting on the same show at the same time, and only a few miles apart.

Nevertheless, it's happening now as the Westminster Community Theater's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" opens, while another version is still running at the Huntington Beach Playhouse. To be fair, the latter was a late program change due to the unavailability of a scheduled show.

The William Finn-Rachel Sheinkin musical satire about junior-high-level nerds matching wits is entertaining enough to support dueling productions. And it's a show where egregious overplaying not only is accepted but encouraged.

The WCT production, ably directed by Kirk Larson, is creatively set at the Westminster Middle School — home of the Sea Cucumbers. Hey, if UC Santa Cruz can have its Banana Slugs (and UC Irvine its Anteaters), why not?

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The coterie of contestants is, predictably, off the wall, beginning with Garrett Chandler, playing "magic foot" speller William Barfee for the third time. To say Chandler nails his overconfident character would be an understatement. The actor was born for this assignment.

Only one contestant melts Chandler's supremely egocentric character — Katie Del Vecchio's shy, comely Olive Ostrovsky, whose modest demeanor (and financial circumstances) presents a sharp contrast to the others. Daniel Gaitan's defending champ, Chip Tolentino, deals from a position of strength until a pretty girl in the audience melts his heart and alters his appearance.

Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere — the girl with two fathers — is nicely played by Kaitlin Brasuell, whose character has an unfortunate lisp that often compromises her clarity on lyrics. Grace Byeon is quite convincing as Marcy, the Asian student who's weary of being so highly regarded.

From this collection of high-IQ weirdos, one particularly strange creature emerges. That would be Kevin King's imaginative Leaf Coneybear, a flighty force of nature with a superhero's cape who appears to have emerged from Jeff Dunham's box of screwball dummies.

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