The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is making the rounds these days. And why shouldn't it? This beguiling musical by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin is a likable show. Yet something about the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts' recent staging made the piece feel first-time fresh. Surely a big part of that freshness was the focused direction by Quin Gresham that honed in on the underlying pathos of loners and innocents who love to learn. By evening's end it didn't really matter which student won the spelling bee; everyone in the audience was a winner. The same can be said of much of the university theater presented in our area. Some of the best stage productions of the past decade have been mounted on local campuses. The prices are low, and more often than not the entertainment value is high. Musicals like Putnam County and last year's Ragtime at Washington University are as fully realized as anything you're likely to see at this town's higher-end venues.
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