Can you spell "homunculus"? What about "palaestra," "catarjunes," or "flugaloom"? Okay, those last two aren't real words, but that doesn't mean you won't have to spell them if you're selected to participate in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Bee, a wickedly funny, Tony Award-winning one-act that made its chaotic Broadway debut in 2004, combines all the elements of a traditional musical with all the unexpected surprises of improvisation and audience participation.
The musical's major characters include Chip (who's often told he's not so smart), Logainne (who has two dads, gravity-defying braids, and a number of issues), Olive (who made friends with a dictionary because her folks are never around), Marcy Park (who speaks six language and realizes she's turning into a cliché of the overachieving Asian American), and a variety of other small-town whizzes and wackos.
The most interesting contestants, however, are picked from the audience and forced to ask the bee's moderator to define simple words and use them in a sentence. Like, "Can you give me a definition of 'elephant'? And can you use it in a sentence?"
The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee is that rare theatrical beast: It's as appealing to people who generally don't like going to plays as it is to musical-theater aficionadoes.
"The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee" is at The Orpheum through April 27th. Ticket prices range from $20 to $75.