I had a lovely week at the theater, and today’s drama column, in which I review The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the Storm Theatre’s revival of The Shoemaker’s Holiday, is proof thereof.
Putnam County is soooo da bomb:
Sometimes you can tell how good a show is going to be as soon as it starts. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was like that. The lights went down, the five-piece orchestra struck up, and an anxious-looking teenager walked on stage and sang, “At the 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee/My parents keep on telling me/Just being here is winning/Although/I know it isn’t so.” Pow! All at once Second Stage Theatre was filled with the warm, knowing laughter of a roomful of people who knew they were about to have their socks charmed off.
Let me pause for a moment so you can go right out and buy tickets, because William Finn, the writer-composer of “Falsettos” and “A New Brain,” and Rachel Sheinkin, author of the funniest musical-comedy book to come along in years, have blown the bull’s-eye off the target. “Putnam County” (as I’ll call it for short) is that rarity of rarities, a super-smart show that is also a bonafide crowd-pleaser. Directed by James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim’s longtime collaborator, it’s the best new musical I’ve covered, “Avenue Q” included, since I started writing this column. In fact, it’s the best show in town, and if it doesn’t move to Broadway sooner rather than later (it runs off Broadway through March 6), I’ll cook and eat my unabridged dictionary….
I had almost as much fun at The Shoemaker’s Holiday:
Thomas Dekker’s “The Shoemaker’s Holiday,” first performed in 1600, hasn’t received a major New York production since 1937, when Orson Welles staged it for his Mercury Theatre. Now it’s being presented by the Storm Theatre, a tiny troupe of which I’d never heard until its press release popped up in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago (the company performs in a black-box theater a block from Broadway). The only reason I bothered to go was because I’d never seen Dekker’s most popular play on stage.
Well, guess what? It’s a peach. Peter Dobbins, artistic director of the Storm Theatre, strikes a perfect balance between bawdiness and deep feeling, something that Welles’ heavily cut, coarsely comic staging failed by all accounts to do. Dekker’s prithee-put-a-sock-in-it-old-codswallop dialogue is played to the hilt, especially by Hugh Brandon Kelly, the shoemaker-turned-sheriff (I’d kill for a big bass voice like that), and shameless scene-stealing is the order of the day (Amanda Cronk makes the funniest faces imaginable). Yet the serious parts are given full value, too….
No link. Do the newsstand thing, or the online edition thing.
P.S. Since my review went to press, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has extended its off-Broadway run to March 20. Don’t wait for it to move to Broadway–go now.