Joan Marcus
Dana Steingold, left, Justin Keyes, Katie Boren (on floor), Eric Roediger, Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Vanessa Ray in "Spelling Bee."
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah, through Sunday (581-7100 or

It's hard after leaving "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" to write this review without some cute little pun in this review's lead, "I l-o-v-e-d it!" "This show is g-r-e-a-t!"

So I'll try not to. OK, maybe once, you're in for a t-r-e-a-t!

If spelling bees were this much fun when we were kids, perhaps none of us would need spell-check.

Anytime a show requires adults to play children, it's a worry that the show will be two hours of mispronounced R's and L's and actors flatly shouting their songs. That is not the case with the current touring production of "Spelling Bee."

The cast does a marvelous job of being very childlike without making the audience suffer through silly cliche representations of children. In fact, the actors do such a great job, you forget you're watching grown adults with degrees in theater and loads of experience.

The opening night crowd was very responsive and there to have a good time, which, of course, makes the actors have more fun and makes for a great night of live theater.

And the theatergoers were also good sports. "Spelling Bee" had audience members come up onstage and spell. The one-liners about the audience folk were some of the funniest of the night, and the guest spellers seemed to have a great time.

Filled with plenty of topical references and political jabs that are well-delivered and quite funny, this is one of the few shows where local references really work. You are, in fact, in Putnam County, which is somewhere near Sugar House, it seems.

"Spelling Bee" will also make you think. Not just about the meaning of THAT word, but about kids and how easily adults can mess them up. The show gives small glimpses into the home life of the competitors. I'm sure there isn't a parent in the house who doesn't leave asking himself or herself, "Am I involved enough?" "Am I involved too much?" "Do I put too much pressure on them?" "Am I like that?"

Especially enjoyable are the performances by Roberta Duchak, a perfectly condescending yet lovable bee hostess; Vanessa Ray, a soft-spoken student with a big love for words, and Eric Roediger, speller with the Magic Foot and serious allergies.

Most importantly, after you see "Spelling Bee," DON'T tell anyone who wins (trust me, someone is going to). The show works best when you get to the ending and are left thinking, "But I like BOTH of the kids!"

And you will.

Sensitivity rating: Some swearing, some sexual references and one full song about the boyhood pangs of puberty.