Arts & Culture

Kelrik's "Spelling Bee" has humor and heart

Kelrik Productions is running two shows simultaneously, with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in the evenings and family-friendly “Tarzan” in the afternoons.

“Spelling Bee” is about kids, but it’s not for youngsters. A musical comedy about some quirky early adolescent contestants who are in the throes of growing up, it introduces them as comic characters and, as the bee continues, shows each one struggling with issues of identity and ego.

The cast is excellent — older than their characters — but with clever costumes, youthful mannerisms and a bit of overacting, they come across as overgrown pre-teens.

The adult characters are more clueless than the kids. The bee is being conducted by Rona Lisa Peretti, real estate agent and former spelling bee winner, and vice principal Douglas Panch. Elizabeth Premer, with big blond hair, plays the stereotypical Peretti with comic enthusiasm, and Mike Mesker is a rather hapless Mr. Panch as he dishes out the spelling words and their meanings.

Some of the sentences used to define the often obscure words are laugh-out-loud funny. Chloe Davis is a kick as Mitch Mahoney, a sexy parolee who is doing community service as the “comfort counselor,” sending the losers off with a hug and a box of apple juice.

The kids are unique characters, comical at first, but touching as their personalities and problems emerge. Each one has a big song that expresses his or her dilemma. A live band — music director Lacey McNamara on keyboards and flute and Cheryl Post on drums — holds the music and dance numbers together. Christian Clarno and Danielle Dutro direct.

Each contestant is defined by a personality-appropriate costume by Keith Wetzel. Chip Tolentino, a Boy Scout with raging hormones, is played manically by Zach Johnson. His song is “Chip’s Lament” (or “My Unfortunate Erection”).

Ali Peters plays Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere, a girl with two gay fathers who dote on her, but also push and coach her, even suggesting she cheat. Peters is cute in a plaid jumper as she twists her hair, worries and sings “Woe Is Me.”

Michael Rogers creates a complex character as William Barfee, always mispronounced by Panch and corrected (Barfay) by the contestant. Barfee is brash on the outside, but insecure on the inside, with some humorous medical issues and having been bullied. His quirk is that he spells the words with his feet, marking them out on the floor, and inspiring a lively dance number with the entire cast singing “Magic Foot.”

Leaf Coneybear is insecure on both the outside and inside, convinced by his siblings that he’s the dunce of the family. Cody Pettit, dressed in overalls with colored handprints on them and wearing a cape, is sympathetic and cute as he sings “I’m Not That Smart.” He explains that he makes his own clothes. Pettit stars as Tarzan in Kelrik’s afternoon show, where he wears hardly any clothes.

Danielle Mendoza, in a Catholic school uniform, is good as Marcy Park, a super-achiever who speaks six languages, excels at sports, dances and plays music. She has never been a loser, and she is tempted to see what it would feel like.

The saddest character in the bee is Olive Ostrovsky, played sweetly by Veronica Serber. Olive’s mother is finding herself in an ashram in India and Olive’s father doesn’t show up at the bee. Also, she doesn’t have the $25 entry fee, but is allowed to compete anyway. “The I Love You Song” expresses the way Olive would like her parents to be.

Several contestants were selected from the audience before the show, but they were eliminated from the competition early on. There are a few surprises. For example, Jesus shows up at one point.

This is a show that takes a certain attitude to pull off, with adults playing kids and broad comedy laced with a bit of pathos. The Kelrik cast does a fine job of creating unique characters with both humor and heart.


"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 16

Unity, 1490 Southwood Drive, San Luis Obispo


543-7529 or