ABOUT THE MUSICAL

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

A 2005 Broadway musical

Conceived by Rebecca Feldman and Jay Reiss

Music & Lyrics by William Finn 

Book by Rachel Sheinkin 


A One-Act Musical Comedy

SYNOPSIS:

Winner of the Tony and the Drama Desk Awards for Best Book, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has charmed audiences across the country with its effortless wit and humor. Featuring a fast-paced, wildly funny and touching book by Rachel Sheinkin and a truly fresh and vibrant score by William Finn, this bee is one unforgettable experience.

An eclectic group of six mid-pubescents vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime. While candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives, the tweens spell their way through a series of (potentially made-up) words, hoping never to hear the soul-crushing, pout-inducing, life un-affirming "ding" of the bell that signals a spelling mistake. Six spellers enter; one speller leaves! At least the losers get a juice box... A riotous ride, complete with audience participation, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a delightful den of comedic genius. 

 

 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.

Jose Llana, Deborah S. Craig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (top row), Celia Keenan-Bolger, Dan Fogler, and Sarah Saltzberg (bottom row) in the original Broadway production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

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.'" 

The Broadway cast album was released on May 31, 2005. The original Broadway cast recording was nominated for a Grammy Award. 
 

CASTING: 

Character Breakdown

This is the epitome of the ensemble show. Each speller has basically an equally sized role and has a few key moments to shine (including at least one song). All actors must be able to sing, though the actor playing Panch does not need a strong voice.

CHIP TOLENTINO

Last Year's Putnam County champ who begins to learn the ups and downs of puberty during the bee. He is strong willed, competitive and ambitious. An athletic, social, boy scout, he returns to defend his title, but he finds puberty hitting at an inopportune moment.  This role has some of the most difficult singing in the show and requires long sustained high notes. 

LOGAINNE SCHWARTZANDGRUNIERRE (SCHWARTZY)

Logainne is the youngest and most politically aware speller, often making comments about current political figures and her mature world views.  She has two overbearing gay dads who have turned her neurotic and self-conscious. She speaks with a lisp though has a real confidence about her at times. 

LEAF CONEYBEAR

As just the second runner-up in his district's bee, he really shouldn't be competing here.  He finds everything about the bee incredibly amusing. He is home-schooled and comes from a large family of former hippies. He makes his own clothes, is home schooled and lacks social skills. He’s strange but very sweet, loving and kindhearted but distracted. He has severe Attention Deficit Disorder and spells words correctly while in a trance.   This role allows a ton of personal interpretation and requires physical comedy (i.e. falls). 

WILLIAM BARFEE

A Putnam County Spelling Bee finalist last year, he was eliminated because of an allergic reaction to peanuts and is back for vindication. He has no interest in making friends at the bee. His famous "Magic Foot" method of spelling has boosted him to spelling glory, even though he only has one working nostril and a touchy, bullying personality. He develops a crush on Olive.   This role requires a strong character actor with impeccable comic timing and the ability to create his own character. The character does not necessarily need to be overweight and is not specific as to ethnicity or race. He must a strong character voice and be an above average dancer. 

MARCY PARK 

​Marcy is the most feared and practiced competitor in the bee. She made it all the way to ninth place in Nationals last year and is back to win again. 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 does not recognize her own lack of humor. She is incredibly intense. She is the poster child for the Over-Achieving Asian, and attends a Catholic school called "Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows." She is also not allowed to cry.

We would prefer an actress with unique talents (i.e. playing piano, twirling batons, juggling, gymnastics) but are open to all interpretations. 

OLIVE OSTROVSKY 

A young newcomer to competitive spelling.  The heart of the show, Olive is basically deserted at the bee. Her mom is in ashram in India and her dad never shows up, even after promising that, this time, he'll try to make it. Her best friend is a dictionary.  She starts enormously shy, and shyly blossoms.  This role requires an actress who, despite her meek appearance, has an incredibly strong voice and belt. 

RONA LISA PERETTI

This former Spelling Bee champ is not only the county's top realtor, she also runs a highly lucrative e-Bay business, selling sensible pumps at sensible prices. She is incredibly kind to the spellers, having been in their shoes many years earlier. She is a sweet woman who loves children, but she can be very stern when it comes to dealing with Vice Principal Panch and his feelings for her. Her interest in the competition is unflagging and drives it forward.

Should have both a high belt and improv skills. Along with Panch, she guides the comedy of the show and the audience volunteers. 

DOUGLAS PANCH

The Vice Principle. Frustrated with his life, he finds the drive of the young spellers alien to him. He was involved in an "incident" at the Twentieth Annual Bee that got him removed from the judging panel. After five years' absence from the Bee, Panch returns as judge, in "a better place,” thanks to a high-fiber diet and Jungian analysis. He is infatuated with Rona Lisa Peretti, but she does not return his affections.  
We are looking for a strong character actor with impeccable comic timing and the ability to improv. While he does not need to sing, he is the most important role in the entire show. 

MITCH MAHONEY

The Official Comfort Counselor.  This former felon is fulfilling his court ordered community service at the bee and acting as the bee’s “comfort counselor,” handing our juice boxes and a dose of reality to the losers. He has no idea how to offer comfort, but does find himself wishing he could find a way to make the kids feel better. He comes across as scary and tough but is really a big softy deep down.

CARL DAD

Schwarzy's main trainer, the more intense and competitive of Schwarzy's fathers. Normally played by actor playing Leaf.

DAN DAD

the more laid back and ineffectual of Schwarzy's fathers. Normally played by the actor playing Mitch.

JESUS CHRIST

Deity invoked by a speller in need. Normally played by the actor playing Chip.

LEAF'S MOM, DAD and SIBLINGS

All more academically gifted than Leaf, they are even more surprised than he is by his success. Normally played by the spellers and audience volunteers as indicated in the script.

OLIVE'S DAD

A fantasy version of Olive's dad coming to the bee from work. Normally played by the actor playing Mitch.

OLIVE'S MOM

A fantasy version of Olive's mom at her Ashram in India. Normally played by the actor playing Rona.

ADDITIONAL FACTS

SHOW HISTORY

 

Inspiration

 

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 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.  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 FergusonCelia 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.

 

Productions

 

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 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.

Trivia

 

  • The original production was directed by James Lapine, who also directed Sunday In The Park With George and Into the Woods.

  • The Original Broadway Cast Leaf was also Mitchell from Modern Family.

  • 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.

  • Julie Andrews missed "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" when she was a guest speller on KIDS night on Broadway, 2007.

 

Other Resources

 

We highly recommend that you watch the entire show.  Here is a production on Youtube we feel was done well. 

© 2017 by Academy for Children's Theatre
 

CONNECT​ WITH US:​​

PO BOX 57443 

Sherman Oaks, CA 91413

HOURS OF OPERATION

Staff is available through text message, phone or email most hours of the day.  

7 DAYS A WEEK

9:00 AM - 7:00 PM

CONTACT

(818) 915-8527
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