Richard Ouzounian gives The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2008) four stars.
"I must confess I've loved this honey of a show ever since I first saw it on Broadway in 2005. Still, I had my doubts that it would work as well in the Elgin as it did its original, smaller home. But my fears were all unfounded. The touring company on view is a winner and James Lapine's canny staging has been adapted nicely for the larger space.
"Rachel Sheinkin's book is a clever piece of work, making us think we're going to get nothing but jokes, while she's actually laying the groundwork for some considerable pathos.
"And nobody writes the kind of songs you find here as well as William Finn, the Meistersinger of malaise. Finn loves all of these adorable losers and gives them voice in music that has the tang of real feeling and lyrics with the wit of genuine speech turned slightly on its head.
"But all of this wouldn't work as well as it does without the cast, led by our biggest heartbreakers.
"Eric Roediger takes no prisoners as the chubby, nasally congested William Barfee ('pronounced Bar-fait!' he keeps correcting everyone). He spells with his 'magic foot' and keeps the world at bay with his arrogance. Wonderful work.
"And Vanessa Ray captures the essence of every child caught in the crossfire of her parents' wars as the almost painfully gentle Olive Ostrovsky, wanting someone to love her, without realizing she has to love herself first."
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2008) runs until February 10 at the Elgin Theatre as part of the inaugural Dancap season.