Part of the fun of working on a show is that it swims around inside your head even on days when there isn't a performance. And when you're working on a really great show, that's half the joy right there. As those of us who had already worked on Finn's music all know, living inside this beautiful, special, quirky music for all these weeks has been a genuine privilege.
But this show also has a kickass book, full of rich layers. The show is always in the back of my mind, and once in a while, I have a revelation and I realize something about the show that I hadn't known before. Here's what I revelation'd today...
The secret of Spelling Bee is that it’s not really about winning the bee, as everyone assumes; it’s about winning at being a human being, knowing how to happily "be."
Olive and Barfée both "win" because they finally find a friend and now feel less lonely. Marcy wins because she rejects her unhealthy obsession with winning (or is it her parents’ unhealthy obsession?). Leaf wins by retaining his humanity and sense of proportion – he knows that winning isn't everything. In fact most of the time, it’s not much at all.
But Logainne loses because she doesn’t learn the right lesson. Even at the end, she continues to believe that nothing matters but winning, that anything else brands you as an inferior being. (Oddly, considering Logainne's liberal leanings, this is the mindset that has kept us in Iraq and Afghanistan all these years.) And Chip loses because he continues to invest too much power in winning. Early in Act II, Chip says to Barfée, “You know something, Barf, I may have lost but you are the biggest loser here!” Actually, the exact reverse is true by the show’s end. Barfée ends up one of the biggest winners of all.
Though the show’s central theme is the idea that "life is random and unfair," a companion theme is the idea that none of this really matters. As Jesus says in the show, “This isn't the kind of thing I care very much about.”
I love a musical with layers.
Long Live the Musical!