THUNDER BAY, ON ---- September 28, 2011 --- It is a big 40th birthday year for Thunder Bay's Magnus Theatre, and if the balance of the season is as good as the season opener, there will be plenty of reasons to celebrate the Waverley Park theatre this season. Over the years I have noticed that I like all the plays that have Danny Johnson behind the keyboard. I like musicals and many people in Thunder Bay do as well. Secondly when ever Jo-Ann Waytowich graces the stage there will be laughter a plenty. A third dictum about the Theatre I have if there are more than two actors on stage the production will be better than if there is only one. No matter how good a single actor can be the production begins to require the patience needed to endure a w hour church sermon. Happily there is a cast of 8 professionals on stage and in the beginning they are aided by a few volunteers from the audience.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is now playing at Magnus Theatre. The cast features Sam DiGiusseppe, Rachel Fischer, Stewart Adam McKensy, Jennifer Rooney, Kieth Savage, Nick Settimi, Curtis Tweedie, Jennifer Villaverde and Jo-Ann Waytowich. As musical casts go this cast can really sing! Perhaps that might be the one thing that is out of balance with this production for their is better than the composition. It might be better matched if there was the odd out of tune note and a rough voice here and there. It is obvious that much of the cast has had some serious vocal training and having them perform the music and lyrics by William Finn was like swatting a fly with a hammer. A little overdone.
I do not have a complaint about William Finn’s work because setting Genisis to music would be easier than turning the script into a musical. Having said this I wonder if people will go home humming a tune from the show?
The play is set in the gymnasium of a junior high school wherein six quirky adolescents are competing in a spelling bee run by equally quirky grown-ups. As the competition proceeds the contestants find that this is a place where they can stand out as well as fit in at the same time. A neighbour of mine referred to her son’s friends as “Fringe Friends”, meaning that they are good people but that they were always to the left of centre of the popular kids. The spelling bee for them has become a place where they protest, excel and achieve, and of course find love. The whole emotional roller coaster that is the spelling bee allows each of the contestants to reveal their inner selves and together they grow and understand and finally come to appreciate one another. In a nutshell “Life is a Spelling Bee”
The show last Friday night was a sell out, and Magnus has already added extra performances to accommodate demand. It is a feel good production and the many people I spoke to indicated that they would recommend this show to their friends. While the on stage cast is good I did mention that I am a fan of Danny Johnson and his work with Magnus but the Set design by Scott Penner, Lighting by Travis Hatt, Costumes by Mervi Agrombar all work their magic to produce a seamless production. Stage Management by Gillian Jones was first rate as usual.
It used to be that when you turned 40 you were over the hill, but 40 years is still young and the shows at Magnus keep getting stronger with every season. This season Magnus will pull out all the stops to bring Thunder Bay the very best in live Theatre, and I think the city is embracing Magnus for its hard work. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs from September 19th to October 8th. Bring your friends.