Breckenridge Backstage spells laughs
Ever play Balderdash, the game where you invent definitions for words you’ve never heard of? Well, I’ve played with some of the finest wordsmiths and imaginative writers, and the Backstage’s word definitions beat them all, hands down.”The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” depicts six main characters as they suffer through the angst of being an overachiever -whether they like it or not. In fact, when Marcy (Shaina Wexler), dressed in Catholic plaid, gets a chance to break out of A-student mode, she turns cartwheels. (Luckily, nuns taught her to always wear clean underwear.)Every character has quirks in this campy and hilarious re-enactment of a spelling bee gone a bit awry. You’ll meet a tall geek with big glasses and a lucky rabbit foot, a red-faced girl in uptight pigtails and political buttons, an overzealous (and sexually-budding) boy scout and a tie-dyed maniac who wears a homemade patchwork cape and channels gifted spellers.After a shout-out to Shamus’, the commotion begins as the audience realizes about four of the “spellers” are volunteers who range from 15 to 85 years old. You, too, can have a chance to sit with the other uptight adolescent spellers if you show up to the Breckenridge Theatre early – someone will be sitting at a table in the lobby soliciting volunteers to take the stage. Artistic director Chris Willard coaches amateurs to be themselves rather than trying to act. Their shining moment comes when they walk up to the mic and are allowed to ask the usual two questions, if they choose: “Please give me the definition” and “Use that in a sentence, please.” And the best part for volunteers: They each get a juice box when they fail to spell the preposterous word. (Just don’t slurp in your seat.) That’s right: The Comfort Counselor (a.k.a. the local derelict completing community service work), angel tattoo and all, will escort you off stage, possibly hug you (especially if you’re distraught) and hand you a tiny juice box for consolation.Once he ushers all volunteers to their seats, the main characters take over, singing about “My Friend the Dictionary” (did I mention this particular bee is also a musical?), “Weltanschauung” and “The Champion.” Each kid takes a turn in the spotlight, flashing back to memories, current hormone-induced daydreams and dramatic family dynamics. And each one listens to his or her bio, read by adults who point out nasal dysfunctions and first hickeys.Each time the vice principal (Willard) utters a definition, it’s sure to garner at least a giggle. Then there’s the “American Idol”-esque send-off as spellers fail, but instead of “you had a bad day,” it’s “good-bye, you were good, but not good enough.” And off the loser goes with his or her juice box. At one point, the emotions become so heightened, even the vice principal needs a comforting juice box.Act two starts out with an explosive song, “Chip’s Lament.” To give any more away would be cheating you of the full experience, but let’s just say: You might get a free snack out of his outburst, and you’ll definitely get a hearty laugh.
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