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'Spelling Bee' puts quirky kids and adults to the test at Drury Lane

Frances Limoncelli, Landree Fleming, Eli Branson, Carolyn Braver, Zack Colonna, and Joe Dempsey star in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" now playing at Drury Lane Theatre.
Frances Limoncelli, Landree Fleming, Eli Branson, Carolyn Braver, Zack Colonna, and Joe Dempsey star in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" now playing at Drury Lane Theatre.
Brett Beiner

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

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In its 30th anniversary season, Drury Lane Theatre in OakbrookTerrace is proving its chops by staging a wide variety of hit shows.

Light-hearted and now-running, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” follows Drury Lane’s season opener, “Les Miserables.”

Both have won critics approval, but for very different reasons.

Where “Les Mis” is serious and intense with a magnificent set, “Spelling Bee” is fun and silly with a modest setting in a school gymnasium.

There’s a lot to be said for giving audiences a wide range of shows, and “Spelling Bee” does not disappoint with its perfect-for-summer story.

Be prepared to laugh at this one. With six quirky, over-achieving kids, there’s something just about anyone can relate to in one or more of these adolescents.

Each of them gets their song to lament his or her challenges. The tunes are clever and sometimes heartfelt, and this young cast delivers them from the hearts of their misfit characters.

There’s the delightful Olive Ostrovski (Landree Flemming) that loves to read the dictionary, but doesn’t have the entry fee for the contest; William Barfee (Eli Branson) who flamboyantly spells out the words with his magic foot; the Boy Scout Chip Tolentino (Jordan DeLeon) faced with the humiliation of getting too excited about a girl while on stage; Leaf Conneybear (Zack Colonna) who did not win his previous round and is in the bee only by default.

Add Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Carolyn Braver), the daughter of two high-pressure gay dads; and Marcy Park (Stephenie Soohyun Park), the super-achiever who can’t bear the thought of loosing, and we have a beautifully cast set of misfits.

Frances Limoncelli as moderator and former spelling bee champ Rona Lisa Perettior is terrific as she introduces each speller with an embarrassing, and sometimes untrue, anecdote.

The hilarious Douglas Panch is brilliant as the school vice principal who delivers the odd definitions to words and sentences containing them. His definition of "Mexican" is hilarious in that it seems all too painfully true of Americans' interpretation of the word.

Jonathan Butler-Duplessis adds some extra spice as the juice-wielding Mitch who is performing his community service duties by consoling the losers.

Each show features a few volunteers from the audience who complete in the early rounds with the spellers, bringing some improvisational comedy and a slightly different experience to each show.

“Spelling Bee” is highly recommended for a fun summer night at the theater.

Directed by Scott Calcagno, “The 25th Annual Spelling Bee” runs through Aug. 17 at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

For tickets and more information call the box office at 630-530-0111 or visit the Drury Lane Theatre website.