Methods of learning vary among students; what’s easy for one looms almost impossible for others. That’s one of the lessons learned from The Coterie’s newest production, “Akeelah and the Bee.”
The play focuses on Akeelah, a smart girl whose special talent lies in spelling. Spelling far beyond her grade level, she participates in spelling bees with continued success and even keeps her eye on bigger bees as she progresses. Her love of words and their parts leads her to Dr. Larabee who nearly won the national bee championship one year.
From Dr. Larabee, Akeelah learns some sage advice that helps her continue to move forward as she aims at the national title. Of course, obstacles make the journey more difficult, and overcoming obstacles makes Akeelah stronger and more persistent of her quest.
The cast is led by Anjanee Canady as Akeelah and Walter Coppage as Dr. Larabee. Their scenes provide the heart to the show. The scenes with other classmates and her family give the show its heart. The cast, primarily young actors, stand toe to toe with the adult professional actors and give very believable performances. One younger actor who stands out is James Hawkins as Reggie, Akeelah’s brother who seems to live on the edge of trouble, but whose heart supports his sister and her ambitions.
What makes The Coterie shows so special is that they are focused on younger audiences, but the selections always have enough to engage adults as well. In “Akeelah and the Bee,” the audience sees peer pressure, bullying, competition, camaraderie, skill-building, interaction with adults, parental pressure, and more. Each fits beautifully in the play without being preachy.
The cast is: Akeelah, Anjaneé Canady; Gail, SyKnese Fields; Reggie, James Hawkins; Georgia/Snorting Girl, Alexandria Radford; Batty Ruth/District Judge, Cynthia Hardeman; Rachet Rhonda/Rooster Girl, Air Speller, Tahaji Milsap; Principal Welch/National Bee Pronouncer, Ai Vy Bui; Dylan, Thomas Tong; Dr. Larabee, Walter Coppage; Javier, Robin Robles; Trish/Horse Girl, Elizabeth Breshears; Dylan’s Father/State Bee Pronouncer, Eric Palmquist; Radio DJ/Bee Emcee, JT Nagle.
Understudies: Shamika Franklin (Gail, Batty Ruth, Judge); Frank Dodson (Dr. Larabee); Evana Kumar (Georgia, Rhonda, Trish); Cameron James (Reggie, Javier); Wesley Chen (Dylan); Leila Sufi (Trish/Horse Girl); Ellianna Hishaw (Akeelah); Yordanos Miller (Rhonda/Rooster Girl).
What the audience sees looks quite simple, but for a production to look first class, it is the unseen staff that create the magic. The Coterie assembled a strong artistic staff to make “Akeelah and the Bee” so attractive and free flowing from the audience standpoint.S
Artistic and Production Company: Director, Teresa Leggard; Assistant Director, Jeff Church; Stage Manager Steve Emerson*; Technical Director/Master Carpenter, Marc Wayne; Scenic Design, Kelli Harrod; Scenic Artist, Taylar Sanders; Lighting Design, Jarrett Bertoncin; Costume Design, Georgianna Londré Buchanan; Sound Design, David Kiehl; & Gianna Agostino; Composer, Gianna Agostino; Properties/Set Dressing, Eric Palmquist; Projections Designer, Brodie Rush; Production Assistant/Deck Manager, Pamela A. West; Electricians, Chloé Robbins, Spencer Thompson; Covid Safety Manager, Jason Coats; House Managers, Gracie King, Cait Lambrecht, Ezra Martinez-Haskins, Terrace Wyatt Jr., Matthew Briggs.
Coterie Tags: The Coterie Theatre, The Coterie, Crown Center, Kansas City, Kansas City Theatre, Children’s Theatre, Theatre, Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Entertainment, Akeelah and the Bee