Amy Jo Halliday

I put a beeline spell on you

Broadway Rose celebrates its 25th with another 25th, the musical comedy "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

Make yourself disposed for a facetious crepuscule.

Can you use that in a better sentence? Get ready for a warm, witty serenade to logophiles everywhere, and to the outcasts of Putnam County. Putnam County, if you haven’t been there, is somewhere in the imaginary Midwest, where bread is white, a little German is in the accent, and the sweet demeanor of farmland manners still resides. And The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is, appropriately, the first production of Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s 25th year.

Spelling Bee 6

What’s up in this decade-old alphabet soup of a musical comedy? Amy Jo Halliday, the Portland actress with the classic comedic timing, enters stage left as Putnam County’s real estate magnate, Rona Lisa Peretti. She loves “The Bee,” and with her beautiful soprano and jocular phrasing serves all night as its commentator and co-moderator. Her fellow moderator is Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Lyle Bjorn Aranson, whose body language is reminiscent of a former Soviet police junior lieutenant’s: Vice Principal Panch could use a few yoga sessions to yank the tension out of his body. He’s had a mysterious sabbatical from the Bee, but now returns as judge of the word-hounds as he also casts a flirty eye on Ms. Peretti. The pair are like an Abbott and Costello packing the heat of a 90-pound thesaurus, aided by Mitch Mahoney (Brian Demar Jones), who is fulfilling his community-service sentence by handing out juice boxes and a warm shoulder to those who flub their spellings and must leave the stage.

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Book of Merman: missionary position

No, that's not Mormon. It's Merman, as in Ethel, and Triangle has a lot of fun with its West Coast premiere parody.

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

If Mel Brooks and Cole Porter had a musical baby, it would be The Book of Merman, the parody parody playing at Triangle Productions through December 19 in its West Coast premiere.

That’s Merman, not Mormon.

Ethel Merman was the brassy voice of the Great White Way, who cemented her fan base by cutting through orchestras without a mic, and the fathers of Broadway wrote just for her. Her star was too big and bright for the screen, but her performances onstage in Porter’s DuBarry Was a Lady and as Mama Rose in Sondheim and Laurent’s Gypsy defined the roles. She was on par with Judy Garland and Tallulah Bankhead, but didn’t suffer from their penchant for overindulging in the liquor and medicine cabinets. She worked endlessly up until her death in 1984, and in later performances found a gentle irony as she appeared more frequently to look like she was in drag.

Carver and Shindler divide their affections. Photo: Triangle Productions

Carver and Shindler divide their affections. Photo: Triangle Productions

The Book of Merman, with a book by the playwright Leo Schwartz, is a parody of the hit The Book of Mormon and several of the American standards that Merman made famous. But in this musical, the two Mormon elders have better luck at the end of their missionary day. Elder Shumway (Collin Carver) and Elder Braithwaite (William Shindler) are goodie-two-shoes with milk-and-cookie personalities that come off with a hint of a Bobby, Victor, Hans or Herman from Cabaret – that is to say, their love of an ascetic life, maybe a lifestyle that represses a more human kind of love. Shumway has a little come-hither in his eye, and Braithwaite is all the innocent smiles of a kid at his first county fair.

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