The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
|The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee|
Original Cast Recording
|Premiere||February 7, 2005 – Second Stage Theatre|
|Productions||2004 Barrington Stage Company workshop
2007 US National Tour
2009 St. Louis
2011 West End
2013 Mexico City
|Awards||Tony Award for Best Book
Drama Desk Outstanding Book
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a long one-act musical comedy conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss. The show centers on a fictional spelling bee set in a geographically ambiguous Putnam Valley Middle School. Six quirky adolescents compete in the Bee, run by three equally quirky grown-ups.
The 2005 Broadway production, directed by James Lapine and produced by David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo, Barrington Stage Company and Second Stage Theater, earned good reviews and box-office success and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two, including Best Book. The show has spawned various other productions in the U.S., including a national tour with performances in Canada, and Australian productions.
An unusual aspect of the show is that four real audience members are invited on stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the six young characters. During the 2005 Tony Awards, former Presidential candidate Al Sharpton competed. Another amusing aspect of the show is that the official pronouncer, usually an improv comedian, provides ridiculous usage-in-a-sentence examples when asked to use words in a sentence. For instance, for the word "palaestra", he says, "Euripides said, 'What happens at the palaestra stays at the palaestra.'" At some shows, adult-only audiences (over age 16) are invited for "Parent-Teacher Conferences," also known as "adult night at the Bee." These performances are peppered with sexual references and profanity inspired by R-rated ad-libs made during rehearsals.
Background and original productions
The musical was based upon C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original improvisational play created by Rebecca Feldman and performed by The Farm, a New-York-based improvisational comedy troupe. Sarah Saltzberg, Wendy Wasserstein's weekend nanny, was in the original production, and Wasserstein recommended that Finn see the show. Finn brought Rachel Sheinkin on board, and they worked together with Feldman to transform "C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E" into a scripted full-length musical.
Spelling Bee was workshopped and developed at the Barrington Stage Company (BSC), Massachusetts, where Julianne Boyd is the Artistic Director, in two different stages. In February 2004, a workshop was done in which a first act and parts of a second act were created – this stage of the process was directed by Michael Barakiva and Feldman. The script was fleshed out and the show was given a fuller production in July 2004, directed by Feldman and Michael Unger. Dan Knechtges choreographed the workshop, summer productions, and the Broadway production. Dana Harrel produced both productions as the Producer of Stage II at BSC. Several cast members, Dan Fogler, Jay Reiss, and Sarah Saltzberg remained from C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E. Robb Sapp (later replaced by Jose Llana when Sapp moved on to Wicked), Dashiell Eaves (replaced by Derrick Baskin), Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Celia Keenan-Bolger (joined as Olive Ostrovsky in the summer), Lisa Howard, and Deborah S. Craig were added to the cast, and a full script was created.
The musical moved Off-Broadway to the Second Stage Theatre, opening on January 11, 2005 in previews, officially on February 7, 2005, and closed on March 20, 2005, where it enjoyed critical and box-office success.
Spelling Bee premiered on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre on April 15, 2005 and closed on January 20, 2008 after 1,136 performances and 21 previews. The director was James Lapine and the choreographer Dan Knechtges. The show won Tony Awards for Best Book (Rachel Sheinkin) and Best Featured Actor (Dan Fogler).
The first production outside the United States was at the Melbourne Theatre Company in Melbourne, Australia, from January 18, 2006 to February 25. It starred Marina Prior as Ms. Peretti, David Campbell as Chip, and Magda Szubanski as Barfée. The production was then presented by the Sydney Theatre Company in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and again starred Prior and Szubanski, now joined by Lisa McCune as Olive. The production opened on June 11, 2007 and closed in August 2007.
The musical was produced in San Francisco, California, at the Post Street Theatre opening on March 1, 2006 and closing on September 3, 2006. In Chicago the run began on April 11, 2006 at the Drury Lane Theatre, Water Tower Place, closing on March 25, 2007. The production was directed by James Lapine. In Boston it opened at the Wilbur Theatre on September 26, 2006 and closed December 31, 2006. The majority of the San Francisco cast moved to the Boston production.
The Equity U.S. National Tour began in Baltimore, Maryland at the Hippodrome Theatre on September 19, 2006 going through May 2007, visiting over 30 cities across the U.S. From May 24 to June 17, 2007, the original Broadway cast reunited for a limited four-week run at the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles. The musical returned to Barrington Stage Company, where it originated, in 2008, and ran from June 11 to July 12, 2008. The production included several cast members from the touring company and was a co-production with North Shore Theatre. The first performance in-the-round was at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts from August 12–31, 2008.
In 2007, the first translated production opened in Seoul, South Korea, with all of the music and dialogue in Korean, but the words were spelled in English. In September 2008, a German-language adaptation premiered as Der 25 Pattenser Buchstabierwettbewerb. In October 2008, a production opened at the Oscar theatre company in Australia . In November 2008, Auckland Theatre Company staged the first professional production of the show in New Zealand.
In March/April 2009, Atlantis Productions staged the show in the Philippines. In 2009, the musical opened at The Spotlight Theatre, Gold Coast, Queensland. The Gold Coast Premiere opened May 15 after previews. Directed by Tony Alcock, it ran until June 13, 2009. A Perth, Western Australia production was directed by Kimberley Shaw. It opened on May 9, 2009 and ran until May 30, 2009.
New Line Theatre produced the show in St. Louis in June 2009. Directed by Scott Miller, the cast featured Aaron Allen (Leaf Coneybear), Emily Berry (Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre), Brian Claussen (Douglas Panch), Mike Dowdy (Chip Tolentino), Nicholas Kelly (William Barfée), Alexis Kinney (Marcy Park), Katie Nestor (Olive Ostrovsky), John Rhine (Mitch Mahoney), and Deborah Sharn (Rona Lisa Peretti).
The Mason Street Warehouse, Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Saugatuck, Michigan, opened on August 14 and ran through August 31, 2009, directed by Kurt Stamm. The musical opened in 2009 at the Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, Tennessee. Dave Landis directed it with costumes by Revecca Y. Powell; lighting, Ben Wheeler; scenery, Kathy Haaga, and sound, Rory Dale. The show ran from August 7, 2009 through September 6, 2009.
Matt Byrne Media presented the show at the Goodwood Institute, opening on September 30, 2009. After thirteen performances at Goodwood, the production moved to The Shedley Theatre, Elizabeth, South Australia, where a further five performances were staged.
The American Community Theater presented the Hong Kong premiere run on June 1–5, 2010, directed by Allan Nazareno with musical direction by Scott Gibson. Unique to the Hong Kong production was Jesus’ speaking in Cantonese and being able to speak in tongues (glossolalia). Marcy Park (portrayed by Heidi Mak) then comments that she will have to learn Cantonese (since it is the most difficult language in the world).
Spelling Bee is making its Scandinavian debut 1. -16. September 2012 in Oslo, Norway. Translated to Norwegian by Andreas Preus Efskin and Hilde Skappel. Produced by Aleksander Erichsen for Kulturpotetene. The show is directed by the Swedish director Per Eltvik.
Spelling Bee was performed in Israel, with Hebrew subtitles in October 2012, at the AACI J-Town Playhouse theater in Jerusalem.
The UK National tour 2013 in association with Patch of Blue, The Harlow Playhouse and ASH Productions LTD was cancelled due to a lack of funding.
The Spanish premiere of Spelling Bee was produced in Mexico City by Rodrigo Renovales and directed by Ricardo Díaz at the Teatro Rafael Solana. It opened in July 2013. The cast featured Adrian Pola, Regina Cuaron and Xavier del Valle.
The musical begins with Rona Lisa Peretti entering the gymnasium to set up. As she passes by the microphone, she has a flashback to the moment when she won the third annual spelling bee by correctly spelling syzygy. The spellers are introduced as they enter, and sing about their anticipation of the bee ("The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"). Rona then welcomes the audience to the bee, and calls the selected 4 audience spellers to the stage. She also speaks privately to Olive Ostrovsky, who has not yet paid the entrance fee of twenty-five dollars. When asked if she has a parent in the audience who can pay, Olive reveals that she has arrived by herself on the bus. Rona decides to let the fee slide for the moment. She then introduces the official word pronouncer, Douglas Panch, who is returning from a five-year hiatus. Panch alludes to an incident five years ago, but declares that he is in a better place now. Panch introduces the intimidating-looking comfort counselor, Mitch Mahoney, who is helping at the Bee as part of his court-mandated community service. Mahoney leads the spellers (now including the audience volunteers) in the Pledge of Allegiance. Panch then explains the rules of the spelling bee ("The Spelling Rules / My Favorite Moment of the Bee 1").
The spelling bee begins, and as each non-audience speller is called forward, the audience learns about his or her background through flashbacks (with other characters in the flashbacks being played by the other spellers on stage, including simple nonspeaking roles played by the audience spellers, as guided by the actors). Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre is called up first. When Leaf Coneybear is called to spell the first time, it is revealed in a flashback that he came in third at his regional bee, but advanced to the county finals when the winner and runner-up had to attend the winner's Bat Mitzvah. His word is capybara, which he has no idea how to spell, but he ends up spelling it correctly while in a trance with an unknown cause. Olive is shown to be shy and reserved, a result of her largely absent parents — her mother is in India on a spiritual journey, and her father is missing the bee to work late, as usual. She has come to love spelling by reading the dictionary in her home ("My Friend, the Dictionary"). An audience volunteer is called up, and is given an easy word. If they get it correct, the 2nd volunteer then gets a hard word intended to eliminate them. If the first volunteer gets their word wrong, then the 2nd is given an easy word or not called at all. When William Barfée is called to spell for the first time, Rona describes his unusual technique — he spells the word out on the ground with his foot to get a visual before speaking it. He demonstrates his confidence by returning to his seat immediately after spelling his word, and responding "I know" when Panch affirms that the spelling is correct. The 3rd volunteer is given an easy word (often "Mexican"), which the spellers complain about. After several rounds, another particularly easy word is give to the final audience speller (often "cow"), and the spellers erupt and rant about how the element of luck makes the bee unfair ("Pandemonium"). Logainne then gets "Cystitis," and is shown studying with her two often-quarrelsome fathers in a flashback. When Leaf is called the second time, he is given acouchi, which he again does not know how to spell. He reminisces about how his family repeatedly calls him "dumb", a sentiment that has sunken in and that he has come to believe. Again, in a trance, he spells the word correctly ("I'm Not That Smart").
Barfée is called, and this time sings about his technique ("Magic Foot"). When Marcy is called again, she correctly spells an extraordinarily difficult word ("qaimaqam"), proving herself to be the best speller. However, she is genuinely surprised and somewhat hurt when Rona claims that she is "all business". Chip Tolentino is called next, but he is not paying attention. Rather, he is fantasizing about Leaf's attractive sister, Marigold, in the audience. When snapped out of his daze, he is reluctant to take his turn because he has an erection that is showing. Under threat of disqualification, he takes his turn, but his thoughts (aided by the vaguely erotic word that he is given, tittup) distract him and he begins to misspell the word. He catches himself quickly, and backs up to try to save himself, but the rules of the bee state that "the sequences of letters already spoken may not be changed". He begs for another chance, but Mitch eventually hauls him off ("Pandemonium (Reprise) / My Favorite Moment of the Bee 2").
At this point, the last audience speller is eliminated (he or she simply is called repeatedly in succession and given increasingly difficult words). Mitch sings a special serenade to this audience member for making it this far ("Prayer of the Comfort Counselor").
The remaining spellers (all of the normal cast spellers except for Chip) and the adults go on break, and Chip passes through the audience selling snacks, the punishment for being the first eliminated. He explains to the audience why he lost ("My Unfortunate Erection (Chip's Lament)"). Barfée taunts Chip, who throws a bag of peanuts M&M's at him. Barfée is allergic to peanuts, so Olive picks them up for him. Chip and Barfée continue to fight before Rona escorts the former offstage. Olive and Barfée converse awkwardly before the second half of the bee begins, and Barfée begins to develop a crush on Olive.
With the break over, Rona introduces the finalists as they reenter. Last to be introduced is Logainne, who describes her two overbearing fathers and the stress that they put on her ("Woe is Me"). In a rapid montage sequence, the bee is shown progressing through many rounds, ending with Leaf’s elimination on the word chinchilla. He walks away head held high, having proven to himself, despite his elimination, that he is smart (I'm Not that Smart (Reprise)").
Marcy is called to spell, and Rona, who has been announcing factoids about the spellers all along, announces that Marcy speaks five languages. She reveals more about her stressful life, where she is pushed to succeed in everything, which she does not enjoy ("I Speak Six Languages"). She is given the word camouflage, to which she sighs, "Dear Jesus, can't you come up with a harder word than that?" Jesus Christ then appears to her and teaches her that she is in control of her own life. Resolved to do what she wants rather than what is expected of her, she intentionally misspells the word and exits excitedly ("Jesus / Pandemonium (Reprise #2)").
Olive's cellphone rings — it is her father, who she has been anxiously hoping would arrive. Panch attempts to disallow her from answering the phone, but she persuades Rona to take the call for her. Logainne then begins an ad-libbed rant about the bee, her fathers, and current political events. Panch, provoked by the rant and upset that he has lost control over the bee, loses his temper and lashes out at Logainne, who is next up to spell. Panch is then escorted offstage by Rona and Mitch (different productions handle this differently). One of Logainne's fathers jumps onstage to calm Logainne down, and, despite his daughter's protests, pours some of his soda on the floor to make Barfée's foot stick and thus disrupt his technique.
With Panch calmed down, Olive is called to spell. She asks what her father had said, and is saddened to learn that he said he is running even later than planned. Her word is chimerical, and mirroring the word's definition, she imagines her parents being there and giving her the love that she always has wanted and yearned for, while showing the problems with her own family ("The I Love You Song").
Barfée is called to spell next, and when he uses his signature technique, the soda causes his foot to stick. Much to his surprise, he is able to spell his word correctly anyway. Logainne is next, and she overcomplicates her word vug and misspells it ("Woe is Me (Reprise)"). Rona is excited that it has come down to the final two ("My Favorite Moment of the Bee 3").
The finals are shown quickly through another montage ("Second"), and Olive and Barfée continue to grow closer. Eventually, Olive misspells a word (elanguescence), giving Barfée a chance to win by spelling his next word correctly. He is torn between winning and letting Olive win, but with Olive's encouragement, he spells his word correctly (Weltanschauung). Panch awards William Morris Barfée the trophy and two hundred dollar prize, and in a surprise act of charity, gives Olive a fictitious runner-up prize of twenty-five dollars from his own pocket — exactly the amount needed to cover her entrance fee. Olive congratulates and hugs Barfée, and each character reads their epilogue, a sentence or two about what they do in the years and decades after the main action of the play ends ("Finale").
(Songs are not listed in the Playbill since with audience members on stage, the timing of the "Goodbye" songs varies with each show and because it could spoil who wins the bee.)
- "The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" – Company
- "The Spelling Rules" ‡- Panch and Spellers
- "My Favorite Moment of the Bee" ‡ - Rona
- "My Friend, the Dictionary" – Olive and Company
- "The First Goodbye" – Company
- "Pandemonium" – Panch, Chip, Mitch, and Spellers
- "I'm Not That Smart" – Leaf
- "The Second Goodbye" – Company
- "Magic Foot" – Barfée and Company
- "Pandemonium (Reprise)" ‡ – Mitch, Chip, and Company
- "My Favorite Moment of the Bee (Reprise)" ‡ - Rona
- "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor" – Mitch and Company
- "My Unfortunate Erection/Distraction (Chip's Lament)" – Chip
- "Woe is Me" – Logainne, Carl, Dan, and Company
- "Spelling Montage" † - Panch and Spellers
- "I'm Not That Smart (Reprise)" – Leaf
- "I Speak Six Languages" – Marcy and Company
- "Jesus" † - Marcy, Jesus, and Company
- "The I Love You Song" – Olive and Olive's Parents
- "Woe is Me (Reprise)" – Logainne, Mitch, and Company
- "My Favorite Moment of the Bee (Reprise 2)" ‡ - Rona
- "Second" ‡ – Barfée, Olive, Rona and Company
- "Finale" – Company
- "The Last Goodbye" – Company
† Not featured on the cast album
‡ Combined into one track on the cast album
There is a song on the cast album, called "Why We Like Spelling". This song is sung by all the spellers, but is not in the Broadway production or in the licensed productions.
A song entitled "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Massacres the 12 Days of Christmas" was released online as a holiday track sung by the cast. It reveals several different instances of events within the lives of the characters, such as Coneybear being given 2 right socks named "Phil", Olive discussing various places her dad forgets her at, Barfée ruling his sea anemone circus from his basement, Panch's urine laced with Ritalin, Rona's most recent boyfriend breaking up with her, Mitch ending up and making calls from prison, Schwarzy explaining her dads giving her stomach ulcers, and Marcy receiving the 7th book of Moses (which Schwarzy repeatedly objects to, claiming there's only 5) while fighting with her understudy who was taking her place because "Deborah [S. Craig, the regular Marcy actress] hurt her knee".
- Major characters
- Rona Lisa Peretti: The number-one realtor in Putnam County, a former Putnam County Spelling Bee Champion herself, and returning moderator. She is a sweet woman who loves children, but she can be very stern when it comes to dealing with Vice Principal Panch, who has feelings for her that she most likely does not return. It is implied that she sees much of herself in Olive Ostrovsky. Her favorite moment of the Bee is in the minutes before it starts, when all the children are filled with the joy of competition, before they begin to resent each other. She later declares that she likes how everyone has an equal chance of winning, citing as an example that last year's winner can be this year's loser and vice versa. Another favorite moment is when the last winners go head to head for the top spot because it is so suspenseful and filled with hope. Ms. Peretti herself won the Third Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by spelling "syzygy", which she recounts at the very beginning of the opening number.
- Vice Principal Douglas Panch: After five years' absence from the Bee, Panch returns as judge. There was an "incident" at the Twentieth Annual Bee, but he claims to be in "a better place" now (or so we think), thanks to a high-fiber diet and Jungian analysis. He is infatuated with Rona Lisa Peretti, but she does not return his affections.
- Mitch Mahoney: The Official Comfort Counselor. An ex-convict, Mitch is performing his community service with the Bee, and hands out juice boxes to losing students.
- Olive Ostrovsky: A young newcomer to competitive spelling. Her mother is in an ashram in India, and her father is working late, as usual, but he is trying to come sometime during the bee. She made friends with her dictionary at a very young age, helping her to make it to the competition.
- William Morris Barfée: A Putnam County Spelling Bee finalist last year, he was eliminated because of an allergic reaction to peanuts. His famous “Magic Foot” method of spelling has boosted him to spelling glory, even though he only has one working nostril and a touchy personality. He has an often-mispronounced last name: it is Bar-FAY, not BARF-ee ("there's an accent aigu", he explains with some hostility). He develops a crush on Olive. At the end of the play he wins the spelling bee.
- Logainne "Schwarzy" SchwartzandGrubenierre: Logainne is the youngest and most politically aware speller, often making comments about current political figures, with two overbearing gay fathers. She is somewhat of a neat freak, speaks with a lisp, and knows she'll return to the bee next year.
- Marcy Park: A recent transfer from Virginia, Marcy placed ninth in last year’s nationals. She speaks six languages, is a member of all-American hockey, a championship rugby player, plays Chopin and Mozart on multiple instruments, sleeps only three hours a night, hides in the bathroom cabinet, and is getting very tired of always winning. She is a total over-achiever, and attends a Catholic school called "Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows." She is also not allowed to cry. She is often portrayed by an Asian actress.
- Leaf Coneybear: A homeschooler and the second runner-up in his district, Leaf gets into the competition on a lark: the winner and first runner-up had to go to the winner’s Bat Mitzvah. Leaf comes from a large family of former hippies and makes his own clothes. He spells words correctly while in a trance. In his song, "I'm Not That Smart", he sings that his family thinks he is "not that smart," but he insinuates that he is merely easily distracted. Most of the words that he is assigned are South American rodents with amusing names.
- Charlito "Chip" Tolentino ("Tripp Barrington" in the original workshop, "Isaac 'Chip' Berkowitz" in the Chicago production): A Boy Scout and champion of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, he returns to defend his title. Relatively social and athletic, as he plays little league, Chip expects things to come easily but he finds puberty hitting at an inopportune moment.
- Three or four spellers from the audience: Audience members are encouraged to sign up to participate before the show, and several are chosen to spell words on stage. In touring productions, local celebrities are sometimes selected.
- Minor characters (All can be doubled by the actors playing the major characters)
- Carl Grubenierre: One of SchwartzandGrubenierre’s fathers; he has set his heart on his little girl winning the Bee, no matter what he has to do, including sabotaging William’s foot. Usually played by the actor who plays Leaf.
- Dan Schwartz: SchwartzandGrubenierre’s other father; he is more laid back and doting than Carl but is still intent on his daughter winning the Bee. Usually played by the actor who plays Mitch.
- Leaf's Dad: Doubtful and finds his son annoying and unintelligent. Usually played by the actor who plays Barfée.
- Leaf’s Mom: Overprotective and doubtful of her son’s abilities to stand up to the competition. Usually played by the actor who plays Logainne.
- Leaf’s Siblings: Not very confident of Leaf’s abilities. Usually played by the remaining spellers (both cast and the volunteer audience spellers).
- Olive’s Mom and Dad: She is in India, he is working late, but they appear in Olive’s imagination to encourage her and tell her they love her. Usually played by the actors who play Miss Peretti and Mitch.
- Jesus Christ: Appears to Marcy in a moment of crisis. Usually played by the actor who plays Chip.
The principal casts of notable productions of The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
|Role||Off-Broadway & Broadway
|North American Tour
|Rona Lisa Peretti||Lisa Howard||Marina Prior||Betsy Wolfe||Katherine Kingsley||Nikki Switzer||Regina Cuaron|
|Douglas Panch||Jay Reiss||Tyler Coppin||Jim Cashman||Steve Pemberton||Tony Lopez||Xavier del Valle|
|Mitch Mahoney||Derrick Baskin||Bert Labonte||James Monroe Iglehart||Ako Mitchell||Don Juan Seward, II||Jacser|
|Olive Ostrovsky||Celia Keenan-Bolger||Natalie O'Donnell||Jenni Barber||Hayley Gallivan||Brittany Ross||Maria Jose Brunet|
|William Barfée||Dan Fogler||Magda Szubanski||Jared Gertner||David Fynn||Christian Busath||Juan Torres|
|Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre||Sarah Saltzberg||Christen O'Leary||Sara Inbar||Iris Roberts||Joanna Krupnick||Denissha|
|Marcy Park||Deborah S. Craig||Natalie Mendoza||Greta Lee||Maria Lawson||Zandi de Jesus
Yvonne de Salle, née Same (replacement)
|Maria Jose Bernal|
|Leaf Coneybear||Jesse Tyler Ferguson||Tim Wright||Stanley Bahorek||Chris Carswell||Ryan Goodale||Rodrigo Sainz|
|Chip Tolentino||Jose Llana||David Campbell||Aaron J. Albano||Harry Hepple||Kavin Panmeechao||Adrian Pola|
- Notable Broadway cast replacements included Barrett Foa, Rory O'Malley, and Stanley Bahorek as Leaf, Aaron J. Albano as Chip, Josh Gad as Barfée, and Greg Stuhr, Mo Rocca and Darrell Hammond as Panch.
Audience interaction and words used
- Audience interaction
About half an hour before the show begins, audience members in the lobby are given the chance to sign up to participate in the show as "spellers." The registration form asks for name, occupation, hobbies, description of clothing, spelling ability, and age range. Interviewers look for people with no acting experience, unique names, traits, and backgrounds. The audience participants are taken backstage prior to the show and are shown where to stand when called from the audience and given instruction about what to do when called upon to spell. They are asked to request a definition of each word and its usage in a sentence, and to attempt to spell each word rather than giving up. The final audience member to be eliminated is usually given an exceptionally difficult word he or she is sure to miss; regardless of the spelling the cast reacts with incredulity at his or her "success," and the next word is "belled" as incorrect before the attempt is completed. During the performance, the actors sitting next to the audience participants periodically whisper hints about when to stand, sit, move in "slow motion," "freeze" or hang on because the seating platform unit is about to spin.
Ms. Peretti calls the spellers to the stage at the beginning of the show, and they are given badges to wear that say "Finalist." As the show proceeds, each one is eliminated with successively more difficult words. The final audience participant to be eliminated is serenaded by Mitch ("Prayer of the Comfort Counselor") on-stage. Mitch also gives each eliminated finalist (both audience members and regular characters) a juice box and a hug.
Katharine Close, the 2006 winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, was invited to be a contestant at a performance of the show. She was the last speller from the audience to be eliminated and survived fourteen rounds.
The musical treats the audience members as if they were the audience at the fictitious spelling bee. For example, the characters single out audience members as their "family" members. For example, Barfée periodically refers to an age-appropriate woman near the stage as "mom." Similarly, Chip is distracted by an attractive female audience member (or male in the adults-only version), contributing to a misspelling. He is the first contestant eliminated and is thus forced to sell snacks in the audience in the manner of the refreshment hawkers at a sports event. Other characters frequently walk through the auditorium among the audience during the show, sometimes integrating the audience into the show and occasionally dropping the "fourth wall".
- Words used
Examples of words spelled by characters in performances of Spelling Bee include Astrobleme, Cat, Dinosaur, Hasenpfeffer, Origami (Adult Show), and Weltanschauung. Words spelled by the audience volunteers are often unscripted and sometimes improvised by the cast to gently poke fun at the volunteer speller. Past examples include: Dystopia, Cenacle, Elephant, Hemidemisemiquaver, Homunculus, Cow, Jihad, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and Didgeridoo spelt by Rolf Harris. Julie Andrews missed "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" when she was a guest speller on KIDS night on Broadway, 2007.
Awards and nominations
Original Off-Broadway production
|2005||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Book of a Musical||Rachel Sheinkin||Won|
|Outstanding Ensemble Performance||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||James Lapine||Won|
|Lucille Lortel Award||Outstanding Musical||Won|
|Outstanding Featured Actor||Dan Fogler||Won|
|Outstanding Director||James Lapine||Nominated|
|Outstanding Choreographer||Dan Knechtges||Nominated|
|Theatre World Award||Dan Fogler||Won|
Original Broadway production
|2005||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lyrics||William Finn||Nominated|
|Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Book of a Musical||Rachel Sheinkin||Won|
|Best Original Score||William Finn||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Dan Fogler||Won|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Celia Keenan-Bolger||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||James Lapine||Nominated|
- Las Vegas reference
- Internet Off-Broadway Database listing lortel.org, retrieved January 16, 2010
- 'Bee' Spells Farewell January 20, 2008 from Broadwayworld.com
- Horsburgh, Susan. "Audience under a spell", The Australian, January 10, 2006, p. 12
- Simmonds, Diana."Review: 'Putnam County Spelling Bee' in Sydney stagenoise.com, June 15, 2007
- Lemin, Clifton. "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" sfstation.com, March 3, 2006
- Houlihan, Mary. "In a word, S-U-C-C-E-S-S: 'Spelling Bee' the definition of a little musical that could", Chicago Sun Times, April 7, 2006, p. NC17
- No author. "Time Out!; Worth the trip", Chicago Daily Herald, March 23, 2007, p. 28
- Byrne, Terry. "Wilbur's `Spelling Bee' the definition of superb", The Boston Herald, October 4, 2006
- Kennedy, Louise. "Critics' Picks", The Boston Globe, December 10, 2006
- Hernandez, Ernio. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee National Tour Buzzes from Baltimore Sept. 19" playbill.com, September 19, 2006
- Playbill News: Original Spelling Bee Cast to Reunite for Musical's L.A. Debut playbill.com, 2007
- Listing, 2008 barringtonstageco.org, retrieved January 16, 2010
- North Shore Music Theatre
-  tfn-online
- New Zealand production
- Tour listing spellingbeethemusical.com, retrieved January 16, 2010
-  atlantisproductionsinc.com
- Perth production
- "New Line Theatre's Spelling Bee webpage" newlinetheatre.com, 2009
- Michigan production
- Haywood, Jeff. "Mason Street Warehouse takes look at quirky middle schoolers in performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" mlive.com, August 9, 2009
- "Playhouse on the Square" playhouseonthesquare.org, 2009
- Matt Byrne Media | Matt is a journalist, publicist, entrepreneur, writer, director, producer, actor, promoter and theatre critic who regularly presents World, Australian and S...
- Welcome to ACT Online
- Shenton, Mark."Donmar to Stage U.K. Premiere of Spelling Bee, Plus Moonlight and Luise Miller Revivals" playbill.com, September 3, 2010
- "THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE" OPENS MARCH 14, 2014 | Ford's Theatre
- [IBDB.com] ibdb
- "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at TicketMayor.com.
- Julie Andrews guest-stars on Spelling Bee, from Broadway.com
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- Official Broadway Website
- MusicalTalk Podcast discussing the Orlando production
- Internet Broadway Database listing
- Lyrics to the songs
- Official Chicago Website
- Second Stage Theatre listing
- Review in NYT
- Pre-broadway reviews
- Fogler and Saltzberg (original Broadway cast) interview, Downstage Center at American Theatre Wing.org
- William Finn (composer) interview - Downstage Center at American Theatre Wing.org, December 2006
- Circle in the Square Broadway Theater for Spelling Bee
- Spelling Bee @ Musical Cyberspace
- Listing at guidetomusicaltheatre.com
- The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Music Theatre International website
- The website for the Norwegian production of Spelling Bee
- The Norwegian production team's website