Ok, so a production that gets great reviews in national papers… should be good, right?
Anything that comes out of the Donmar Warehouse… should be good right?
A comedy musical about a spelling bee… should be intriguing and vaguely amusing at the very least, right?
Wrong, wrong and wrong!
My viewing of the 25th Annual Spelling Bee was spent wondering if there was an interval so that I could escape as soon as possible. When it became apparent there wasn't an interval, my expression became one of faint desperation, and looking around the audience, it became clear that I was not alone in feeling this way.
I would say that around 30% of my fellow viewers looked as though they'd have been happier sticking pins under their toenails than sitting through what can only be described as High School Musical on acid... and I actually quite liked High School Musical!
Now, what I do want to get straight is that the level of talent of the actors in this musical was excellent. They sang well, they acted well, they danced well, and they made the best of a bad thing…
I guess you're hoping I'm going to get to the point here, list the flaws, say what went wrong, but it's taken me three days to digest the thing enough to write this blog at all.
Two hours after it had finished, I was still jabbering in disbelief at the fact I'd actually witnessed such rubbish at the Donmar Warehouse. The same Donmar Warehouse that I had sobbed my way through King Lear two months earlier, declaring it amazing, and Derek Jacobi, incredible. It just doesn't make sense.
And for this reason, I think the 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes. It should be brilliant, because it's at the Donmar Warehouse, so people feel obliged to enjoy it. Even I felt myself getting sucked in to that mindset, until Jesus came on stage and there was a song about an erection.
A quick Google reveals this strange musical has won plenty of awards and acclaim, so maybe it has an Emperor’s New Clothes’ effect wherever it goes.
I just can’t find any redeeming features… it’s all just so wrong. It's a walking cliché, a run of bad, obvious, embarrassing dad jokes, with Jesus in it, and one black cast member who is an ex-criminal on probation.
It was a pantomime in a thinly veiled disguise of sugar-coated drivel.
But it was subtitled, faultlessly, by the lovely Stagetext, which definitely redeems it to a five-star performance in my book!