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'Spelling Bee'

Jules Becker | 9/22/2010, 8:29 a.m.
Coming-of-age musical teaches more about life than simply winning and losing The coming-of-age musical appears at the Lyric...
The coming-of-age musical appears at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Oct. 2. Mark S. Howard

Grant called last season’s “Harriet Jacobs” with Underground Railway Theatre  “one of those things that really come together with the audience” and “a cathartic experience.”

Next spring he hopes to reach a different catharsis playing two roles in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of the rarely staged “Cymbeline.”

Is the Lyric Stage version of  “Spelling Bee” such a catharsis?

Certainly the performance that this critic saw came together with its audience. A coming-of-age musical, “Spelling Bee” serves as a kind of rite of passage in which all of the pivotal six spellers learn as much about cooperation, understanding, friendship and even love as they do about winning and losing a competition.

If composer William Finn’s score proves winningly tuneful if not as well-developed as his inspired earlier one for “Falsettos,” the standout feature here is Rachel Sheinkin’s insightful book, which won a Tony Award. Lyric guest director and choreographer Stephen Terrell does full justice to the wit and wisdom of the revelations about the spellers and the evolution of the bee itself. The ensemble “Pandemonium” and the spirited solo moves of Michael Borges as different drummer Leaf Coneybear are dance standouts.

Especially satisfying about the Lyric edition of the music is the uniform excellence of the performances. Besides Borges’ touching Coneybear, look for smartly understated frustration for over-achieving from Lisa Yuen as Marcy Park and hilarious indignation from Sam Simahk as Chip Tolentino in a sung lament about an inopportune erection. Lexie Fennell Frare combines convincing sophistication and moving vulnerability as pressured Logainne. Daniel Vito Siefring pushes the envelope of spelling etiquette as magic foot word Merlin William Barfee. Krista Buccellato is so affecting as Olive that audience adults may vie to replace her no-show parents.

The adult roles are equally strong. DeLon Grant endows comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney with genuine warmth. Kerri Jill Garbis resonantly shares the spellers’ energy and enthusiasm. Will McGarrahan has the right quirkiness. Even the volunteer adults rise to the occasion as spellers with alternately easy and difficult words.

The Lyric Stage “Spelling Bee” is so well spoken, sung and danced that previously resistant theatergoers should now embrace its charms. 

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Lyric Stage Company of Boston, through October 2. 617-585-4678 or lyricstage.com.