Reading/Interest Level: Primary, Intermediate, Young Adult
Author: Cheryl L. West
Publisher: Plays for Young Audiences
Estimated Runtime: 2 hours
Number of Characters: 25
Cast Requirements: 7 female, 7 male
Time Period: present day
Production Requirements: Multiple set locations which could be elaborate or minimalist, simple modern costuming, simple sound and lighting.
Akeelah’s life has been tough since her father’s tragic death. Her mother must work overtime to make ends meet, and her brother is constantly getting into trouble in their rough neighborhood in Chicago. Akeelah finds bright spots in her life though with her lively group of neighbors, best friend, and spelling. Despite her lack of formal training, she wins the school Spelling Bee and qualifies for the District Bee. Though she has a rocky relationship with her tutor and no support from her family, Akeelah scrapes a win at District and qualifies for the State Bee. At District she meets a group of experienced spellers from a private school and joins their study group. There she meets her main competition Dylan, an experienced and well-trained speller, and they become rivals quickly. After coming to an understanding with Dr. Larabee, receiving extra support from her neighbors and family, and overcoming her own self-doubt, Akeelah advances to Nationals where she and Dylan make peace and tie for first.
The audience’s attention will be caught at the start of this colorful, fast paced show and held until the end by its thought-provoking themes, memorable and high energy characters, and high stakes competition scenes. The play is similar to the film of the same name which it is based on, but the script takes the opportunity to flesh out neighborhood characters, creating a strong theme of community working together. Students watching the show will identify with many of Akeelah’s issues of trying to fit in in two different worlds when in reality she doesn’t fit the mold of either. She also must come to terms with making new friends while keeping her old, loyal ones. She does all of this while tenaciously fighting for her dream, even when the obstacles seem overwhelming. Educational themes and opportunity for post-show discussion and study are abundant, making it a good choice for presentation in an educational setting.