From Jana Petersen
Theater in D.C. — what does it mean to you? An outing to the Kennedy Center or Shakespeare Theater, perhaps? Or maybe, tickets that often require months of advanced planning and a shock to your Mint.com account.
Looking for something different? Try the Keegan Theater: formerly a girls gymnasium, the Keegan is located on Church Street NW between 17th and 18th streets, nestled among private residences and a quaint church.
The theater space itself seats a little more than 100 guests — small in comparison to venues such as the Kennedy Center, but the perfect size to host musicals such as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Aside from the impressive acting of those officially cast, what made the musical so great was the way the space facilitated informal audience participation and engagement.
Take, for example, the four members of the audience who were introduced as spelling bee participants alongside the actual actors and actresses. Having no prior training or script, the audience members sat on stage, scattered among the performers. It felt like a real-time spelling bee, where the audience played a dual role: viewers of and participants within a musical.
That is not to say that this was a total free-for-all either; in fact, when one audience member got further along as a “spelling bee competitor” than the judges had anticipated, it was particularly amusing to see the judges — actors — try to suppress their shock and laughter.
That audience member was so close to spelling correctly: lysergic acid diethylamide, a word the judges were almost certain would stump her! (That audience member missed it by two letters, but only two!) This is improv at its best.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a masterful mix of talent and script as well as improv, engagement and audience participation. Though this musical garnered great acclaim across its time on Broadway, what made it so wonderful here at Keegan was the intimate atmosphere the space offered, which is something you won’t find at such places as the Kennedy Center. For now, there doesn’t seem to be a better match than 25th Annual and Keegan.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee opened June 4 and runs through July 3. Tickets are $40 for general admission, and $35 for students and seniors. It’s at the Keegan Theatre at Church Street, 1742 Church Street NW.