December 14, 2006

  "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

  "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is truly a winner, combining humor with real life lessons. The story revolves around a spelling bee in which tweens compete. The kids come from all different cultural backgrounds and family lives. Although funny, the story is also very heartwarming at times. The characters are all hilarious. They each have their own unique personalities. For instance, one of the spellers has a problem with his sinuses, and throughout the whole show he is blowing his nose and suctioning his nostrils. Another speller loves skateboards and rides whenever he can during the bee. The hit of the show, in my opinion, was the "comfort counselor," Mitch Mahoney, played by James Earl Jones II. He is a criminal doing his community service work at the spelling bee by handing out juice boxes to the eliminated spellers and escorting them offstage. I'll leave the other surprises out for now.

Everyone in the audience has a chance to be a speller in the show, too. Before you sit down, be sure to go up to the table in the lobby and register if you are interested. But, be aware that if you are one of the lucky four chosen, you will be asked to go onstage and spell a few tricky words. Kids are welcome to apply.

I found the show to be very true since I have competed in a few spelling bee competitions and have experienced many of the same feelings the characters in the play do.

The lyrics to all of the songs in the show are great, but a few of the songs seem a little long. Each character in the show does a song, and it tells a story about their personal background and family situations.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is recommended for ages 10 and up. This is because some of the language and comments are inappropriate for smaller kids. If your younger child is not one to be phased by this, then they will probably enjoy the show.

My family and I attended the show's "game night." It was at the first one that they had done, but they told me that it is something that they will hold every Wednesday. Tickets to game night are discounted. The games begin at 6 p.m., but you can join in until 15 minutes before the show as well. The games include Balderdash, Parcheesi, Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Taboo, to name a few. This was a great way for my family to come together and have fun after a long day. Prizes are awarded to the winners in each game and snacks are provided.

I gave "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" an A because I thought it was hysterical, and that the cast of nine did a fabulous job. My dad gave the show an A because he thought that it was very entertaining, it flowed well, and it was just a lot of fun. My mom thinks this show is a W-I-N-N-E-R.

If you choose to see the show during the holiday season, be sure to check out the beautiful decorations and festive lights downtown. Make it an all night family outing and look at the windows on Michigan Avenue, too. As for dinner, the theater is right next door to Water Tower Place, which gives you plenty of options. Finally, make sure that you pick up a discount parking pass at the box office on your way in. Allie Sakowicz, 12, Park Ridge 

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is now playing at the Drury Lane Water Tower Place Theater, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago. Game night tickets are $29, using the code "Game" when you purchase the tickets. Regular tickets are $59.50. For more information call the box office at (312) 642-2000 or visit their Web site:



  "Air Bud"

When it comes to great dog flicks, there's not much better than the "Air Bud" series. Combining kids, sports and cute golden retrievers, the series has taken us through basketball, football, soccer, baseball and volleyball. So what's left? Why puppies, of course. The new DVD "Air Buddies" features the five adorable puppies of Air Bud, who take off on a rescue mission when their parents are kidnapped by some clutzy bad guys.

The plot line was fairly typical of many animal movies-kids and dogs save the day while grownups are still trying to figure out what's going on, but it's an especially appealing storyline for many kids to watch. My 8- and 10-year-old daughters fell in love with the talking puppies and were on their feet cheering as the puppies rescued their parents.

The puppies were not only adorable-each one had his or her own special talent, from playing basketball to practicing yoga. And in the end of the movie, each puppy finds his own special family that is a perfect match for the puppy's personality. Along the way, the puppies learn about teamwork and the meaning of family.

The movie was good clean fun, although it does have the requisite bad guys and there's one in particular that may be frightening to some more sensitive younger children. But mostly the movie is all about puppy love-something we just can't get enough of in our house. Liz DeCarlo

The "Air Buddies" DVD is $29.99. It is available at most local stores that sell DVDs.


  "The Snow Queen"

The beautifully renovated Biograph Theater is a great place for kids to see a play. Too bad "The Snow Queen" isn't a great play for them to see.   The music in this world premier performance from Victory Gardens Theater is, without a doubt, fabulous. And the performers, including songwriter Michael Smith, are incredibly talented singers and musicians. The problem is the story, which is slightly depressing in the first act, and the larger-than-life puppets, which are more than slightly creepy throughout.   This musical version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale is the story of Kai (played by Andrew Keltz) and Gerda (Mattie Hawkinson), two childhood friends. But Kai is changed when his eye and heart are pierced by shards from the devil's mirror and he begins to see everything that is good as bad. Enter the Snow Queen, who spirits Kai to her palace of snow and ice. Gerda sets off on an odyssey to find and rescue her best friend.   The second half is more kid-friendly as our heroine continues her frigid travels and meets a host of increasingly silly and farcical characters, including the lonely Lapland woman who sings of her desire for a suitor who will write her a love letter on a fish. There's also the princess who sings a very funny song about all the dumb princes who have sought her hand and her longing for a prince with "conversational appeal." Too bad most of the song went over the heads of the two 10-year-old girls who accompanied me. (The fact that the man seated next to us kept snoring loud enough to drown out portions of the performance didn't help either.)   In short, this is a fun theater adventure for adults and, perhaps, older, more sophisticated children. But the story is a little too sad and the puppets a little too scary for younger kids, particularly those who, like mine, are unfamiliar with this fairy tale. It was only because of the terrific music and the talented performers that the girls were wiling to assign the show a "C." (At the 5 p.m. show on Saturday, Dec. 16, the theater will offer crafts and theater activities for children ages 5-12 in an upstairs space so the kids can play while adults watch the show; $5 per child.)   The Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph, however, gets a solid A+ from all of us. The renovated former movie house never looked better. There's enough legroom throughout to accommodate my 6-foot, 3-inch husband's long legs and the stadium seating makes it easy for little ones to see the stage. Too bad Victory Gardens doesn't do more children's programming. Cindy Richards

The Snow Queen runs at the Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, through Jan. 7. For times and ticket prices call the Box Office (773) 871-3000 or visit their Web site,



  "Material Girls"

Instead of "Material Girls", MGM should have named the movie Shallow Girls or something equally dismissive. Our family loves Hilary Duff so everyone wanted to see the movie featuring the blonde starlet and her sister Haylie. But just minutes into the movie, everyone wanted to turn it off. It's been a long time since we've seen anything so lacking in story plot and imagination.

What little plot there is focuses on Tanzie (Hilary) and Ava (Haylie) Marchetta, spoiled, shallow socialites thanks to Daddy's money from his natural cosmetics company. Then scandal hits, their home burns down from the lethal combination of nail polish remover and burning cigarettes, their assets are frozen and their car is stolen. And, heaven forbid, Tanzie must resort to wearing the cast off clothes she donated to charity, while Ava's fiancé dumps her through his spokesman.

Still, against all odds (sarcasm intended) the girls set off to right daddy's reputation. They even fall in love-of course.

Anjelica Huston, who plays their company's biggest competitor, does offer a few funny moments, but this movie can't even make the most of her acting talent.

The kids, ages 11, 7 and 4, hated having to sit through this movie. They couldn't think of one thing to tell you they liked about it when I pressed them. Tamara L. O'Shaughnessy

"Material Girls", rated PG, released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.


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