The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Donmar Warehouse, London

3.00

The Broadway musical, as a habitat, tends not to throng with nature's great spellers. Gypsy's Mama Rose could probably get through "audition", without mishap, but the chances are that she'd put a middle "e" in "monstrous". And, even though it's her native German, how would Maria von Trapp cope with "Weltanschauung" – the word that happens to be the climactic clincher in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical comedy (by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin), that redresses the balance, to an almost parodic degree, in favour of the non-orthographically-challenged?

Receiving its English premiere in Jamie Lloyd's rumbustiously enjoyable production, the show pitches us Brits into the arcane alien rituals and anthropological bizarreries of the kind of tortuous, torturing contest for teenagers that seems designed to put the "eek!" in "geek". We're in a school gym. We're sponsored by local optometrists. There's a black, handsome "comfort counsellor" on community service (excellent Ako Mitchell) who longs to tell the nerdy little brain-boxes that "pain has degrees" and that losing here is as nothing ("but that would violate my parole"). Officiating over the event is blonde glamour puss Rona Lisa Perretti (spot-on Katherine Kingsley), a former winner whose blinkered romanticising of the proceedings is in hilarious contrast to the dog-eat-dog reality. And contributing to the pervasive sense of more-than-faint perviness is Steve Pemberton's sublime pronouncer-in-chief, who is there to deliver undermining introductions and to read out deadpan, deeply unhelpful sentences in which the usage of the word-to-be-spelt is demonstrated (eg "Billy, put down that phylactery. We're Episcopalian").

Spelling Bee is a dippy, spirited mix of the genuinely funny and gratingly fake. It's at its best when it's involving us in the technicalities. Members of the audience are invited to be participants and on the press night these included the actor Daniel Kaluuya (Sucker Punch). One of the most elating moments was when he managed to guess the correct spelling of that ancient Scottish whaling term: "catergunes".

By this token, I much preferred songs such "Magic Shoe" in which the fabulously fat and aggressively repressed William (superb David Flynn) gives terpsichorean expression to his method of tracing the words with his foot to the much more generic numbers about the family neglect, pressuring parents (one girl has "two dads") and stressful American Dream ("You hate losers/ So do I/ I'm a loser/ So goodbye") that have propelled the kids onstage. I expect that Mama Roses (or should that be Mamas Rose?) are a dime-a-dozen on this circuit ("Spell out, Louise!). But in assimilating the experience of these teenagers to the very different exhibition world of the Chorus Line humiliation-plus-inner-monologue format, the show reneges on its own wittiest insights. And the blanket happy ending is as phoney as hell. The piece lasts one hour 40 minutes and for the last half-hour I have to own to up to a sensation of satiety. "Sa-ti-e-ty. The feeling or state of being sated." Can I have a sentence, please? Yes, here it is. "Could it be because there's no interval, mother, that I feel full to satiety?"

To 2 April (0844 871 7624)

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up