"M-U-S-I-C-A-L" wouldn't challenge top-notch spelling bee contestants. But imagine what a challenge it must have been for composer William Finn and playwright Rachel Sheinkin to transform a spelling bee into a musical.

"M-U-S-I-C-A-L" wouldn't challenge top-notch spelling bee contestants. But imagine what a challenge it must have been for composer William Finn and playwright Rachel Sheinkin to transform a spelling bee into a musical.

See how well they succeeded by checking out Otterbein Summer Theatre's terrific production of the Tony-winning "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

Like Finn's most renowned work, the epic "Falsettos," "Spelling Bee" brims with unexpected melodies, unsentimental poetry and unbridled humor. Six young student spellers represent the spectrum of participants, each with a special technique, skill or secret. And the Otterbein performers nail them all.

Evan Zimmerman plays a disheveled nerd, Scott Drayer is a spacey student who's spent a lifetime being belittled by his family. Dolan Bloom gets so distracted by a girl, he loses his concentration. Amanda Huxtable's contestant has an adorable speech impediment.

Alisa Sugita gives her character an intensity that makes it easy to believe she can speak six languages. And Tina Scariano's a girl who feels closer to her friend the dictionary than to her family.

The script puts them in competition with each other, but director David Caldwell knits them into a seamless ensemble.

As Vice Principal Panch, Eric Folks gets many of the best lines. Caitlin Scott moderates the bee as Rona Lisa Peretti, a former spelling champ herself. As "Comfort Counselor," Drew Cotton gives hugs and juice boxes to the losers.

Combine the cast with a tight offstage orchestra, and Otterbein manages to cast quite a spell.