St Albans Musical Theatre Company's Spelling Bee causing a buzz at the Abbey Theatre

Rehearsals for SAMTC's upcoming show The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Rehearsals for St Albans Musical Theatre Company's latest show The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Abbey Theatre - Credit: SAMTC

Madeleine Burton reviews St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Rehearsals for SAMTC's upcoming show The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Rehearsals for St Albans Musical Theatre Company's latest show The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Abbey Theatre - Credit: SAMTC

A spelling bee is causing a huge buzz at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

It is nothing to do with local schools or enthusiastic lexicographers but rather marks the successful return to the stage of St Albans Musical Theatre Company (SAMTC).

The company like most local arts groups has been pretty much out of action since the start of the Covid pandemic.

But it is back this week with the hilarious The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

And like most of the shows SAMTC has put on over the years, I defy anyone not to come out of the theatre without a huge smile on their face.

Of course Spelling Bee is far less lavish than previous SAMTC productions at the Alban Arena but it goes to show that with the right direction and vision, smaller venues can be just as compelling.

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The show focuses on six youngsters taking part in a spelling championship. Along the way the audience learns a lot more about them than just their ability to demystify words and sing magically.

It even pulls in several audience members at the beginning as contestants and they enter fully into the spirit of a captivating show.

Elise Betts directs Spelling Bee, ably abetted by musical director Clive Ogden and choreographer Andrea Campusano.

They have a far smaller cast than most previous SAMTC productions but that different dimension is particularly pertinent where the songs are concerned.

For while few, if any, of the songs are household names, they still stay with you after the show has ended, a welcome by-product of the show.

The show/spelling bee opens with the brilliant Nicola Martinus-Smith as compere Rona Perretti strutting her glamorous stuff on the stage.

Unable to stop blowing her own trumpet, she not only has some of the best lines but also demonstrates a first-rate singing voice.

Gradually the final sextet in the spelling bee come into their own and their stories emerge. Particularly moving is The I Love You Song sung by Joanne Goddard as Olive, Sarah Dunning as her absent mom and Gareth Edwards as her equally absent dad.

The versatile Gareth also plays the childlike Leaf Coneybear but it would be unfair to single out just two of the contestants.

Just as entrancing are Cate Brooks as Marcy, Ruaridh MacPhee as Chip – and as Jesus in one hilarious scene – Kerry Lee as Logainne, and Alex Handley as William.

The latter in his shorts and straining shirt is a vision worth a trip to the theatre alone!

It is great to see SAMTC back on the stage again and demonstrating they have lost none of the chutzpah which has seen them filling the Arena for years.

Spelling Bee runs until Saturday evening (November 20) with a 2.30pm matinee on the final day as well.

Tickets are available from the Abbey Theatre box office on 01727 857861 or go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk


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