Normally, this uber-cool publication wouldn't touch anything as apparently middle-of-the-road as the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Any musical that the New York Times would call “lovably inconsequential and entirely loveable,” is obviously not close enough to hip to dirty our paws upon.
But, since this marks the first production of 3-D Theatricals since its boffo smash, The Altar Boys, came out last month, the show deserves a closer look.
Framed around a Midwest spelling bee where six angst-riddled adolescents desperately compete for the first place trophy, the audience-interactive musical is, by all accounts, more fun than bacon-wrapped chocolate cake.
It also has some decent creative heft behind it. It actually began as a straight, albeit rough around the edges, play titled C-R-E-P-E-S-C-U-L-E, written by an improv comedy group that happened to have as one of its members the nanny of playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Wasserstein, who wrote the hugely popular The Heidi Chronicles (among many other plays before she died at the age of 55 in 2006), liked what she saw and hit up her pal, William Finn, the musical brains behind the show Falsettos.
Finn worked with creator Rebecca Feldman to turn the play into a full-length musical. It opened in New York in 2005 to great reviews and audiences, and has enjoyed a fertile shelf life at regional theaters and community theaters across the county since then.
One reason: Each show, four audience members are chosen at spelling bee contestants, which adds a different tone each night.
On an entirely different note, the Garage Theater in Long Beach–a very left-of-theatrical-center storefront troupe that's been doing rough and edgy work in the International City for several years–has two weeks left for its critically acclaimed profane send-up of Bill Shakespeare's Masure for Measure, Measure for Pleasure. Trannies, dildos, sex-cults and plenty of other peverse accountrement turn this already raucous Shakespeare comedy into something far decadent.
The show's received good buzz, and even landed a sterling review on the Huffington Post from Long Beach-based critic James Scarborough. The clever wag likened the tone of the piece to “Liberace playing Mozart,” and said it crosses “the lapidary wit of Oscar Wilde with the guttural iterations of the Pogues.”
And let's not forget two other shows that opened in downtown Fullerton last week and also generating buzzy vibes: the Monkey Wrench Collective's production of Mark Ravenhill's darkly hinged comedy Pool No Water, and Stages Theatre's Steel Dragnolias, a drag sendup of Steel Magnolias, which is also playing at Stages. Opening night last Friday earned a rare accolade for the latter: a standing ovation. Audience demand has been so high that three Sunday shows have been added.
As far as the Monkey Wrenchers, they're offering something a bit different in terms of comp tickets: Anyone who blogs about the show gets in free. (Uh, does that mean I don't have to pay?)
Finally, a new group on Facebook called OC Theater Reviews will offer theater reviews of local productions from people who give a shit. The group will also post audition notices and let you know what shows are coming up. We're all for more conversation about local theater, but remember this, people: We're all critics–but only a select, chosen few actually get paid for it!
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, OC Pavilion, 801 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714_ 550-0880). Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m. Sun., 2 p.m. Thru June 13.
Measure for Pleasure, Garage Theatre, 251 E. 7th St., Long Beach, (562) 433-8337. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru May 29. $15-$18.
Pool No Water, Monkey Wrench Collective, 204 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-1400. Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., June 11 & June 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m. Thru June 19. $10-$15.
Steel Dragnolias, Stages Theatre, 301 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m. Sun., 5 p.m. Thru June 12. $10.