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Sunday, November 23, 2008


(Pictured: original Broadway cast during LA run at the Wadsworth Theater)

I just saw a production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts (CCPA) and after some thought, I am rather disappointed by the performance -- not so much by the cast but based on "creative" decisions to otherwise destroy the artistic integrity of the musical. I enjoyed the show when the entire Broadway company reunited to premiere the show in Los Angeles. Needless to say, I couldn't have enjoyed it more! It was fun, quirky, smart, with just enough backstory for each character to appreciate their individualities. I honestly, really loved the production. This version however, was not at all the same in all respects because it was an entirely different show.

The problem with the CCPA version is that as far as I have been able to tell, was not "a genuine Broadway tour" per the Broadway League. I was aware that the official Broadway sanctioned tour ended its run some point during the summer of 2008 so I wasn't sure what version this one would be (I don't think any of the cast were even Equity actors). Everything that I originally loved about the LA version, was missing in this CCPA version. Gone were the smooth transitions, the humor, the SONGS (I'm sorry, you cannot have this show without feeling sorry and embarrassed for Chip Tolentino's "My Unfortunate Errection" -- it was one of the funniest parts of the whole musical*). Why and how did this happen? Truly, the CCPA version was really quite horrible if you think about how much was altered/removed from the show which in turn affected the presentation and performance as a whole. In addition, this cast lacked any real chemistry between one another or towards the audience (of course it could be because it appeared that only 40% of the house was full -- and that could be a generous estimation. I'm sure its hard to play off the audience's reaction where there really isn't one).

If a house is afraid that its patrons won't be able to tolerate the themes or humor in any show, maybe they shouldn't consider it in their season. When you chop down a show...changing the lyrics (ie, "goddamnit" was changed to "can't stand it") you compromise the integrity of the show, disrespect the lyric and or music really do. I would have expted this kind of behavior from a red state in middle America, but Cerritos, California? Honestly, I'm not so dissatisfied with the show as a whole as much as I am upset that CCPA chose to alter the show so greatly that (in my opinion) it is not really the same one anymore.

Are there really allowances for this kind of alteration? Honestly, a show was written a certain way, with a particular tone/language for a reason. This isn't oppressed Southern California, circa 1960 and you can't tell me the neighborhood isn't ready for such themes. Far worse language and themes are presented on TV, in movies, on the radio or in other houses with other shows. Honestly, I thought that MTI protected against this kind of mutilation of a show.

I've looked it up before but my mind seems to be missing some of the someone please enlighten me on the whole touring Broadway show presentation process. Who is allowed to alter these shows and why? If I had written a show, I would not allow for any drastic alteration of my material...particularly cutting out an entire number.

*As a sidenote, this production only implied that Chip Tolentino had an "unfortunate errection" during the bee, but never stated it outright. In addition, I thought there was a scene that explained why Logainne Schwartzandgrubenirre's last name was a combination of her two dad's names.  This production didn't include that.  The story of Leaf Coneybear & why he wore a helmet was cut short in the beginning of the show was altered too (or so I thought). Great, that is HALF of the student characters that were unfairly modified.


Anonymous said...

First of all, the theatre decides what is allowed to be in the show and what must be cut. This tour does feature the erection song at most of the venues it plays, but Cerritos must have wanted a cleaner version. Second of all, your comments about Logainne and Leaf are confusing, to say the least. In the original production (which I saw 3 times), there were no such scenes that featured these characters. The only thing I can think of is that you saw a production in which something was ad- libbed regarding the gay dads or the helmet. This touring production did not cut anything except the erection song (depending on the theatre) and uses a few minor lyric/ line changes to avoid mention of an erection and to avoid using God's name in vain.

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