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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a one act musical comedy with music and lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin. The show centers around 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 Broadwaymarker production, directed by James Lapine, has 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 three or 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.

Spelling Bee, together with The Drowsy Chaperone, Xanadu, [title of show], 13, and others, is part of a Broadway trend to present musicals uninterrupted by an intermission, with a relatively small cast and short running time of less than two hours.

The cast album was released on May 31, 2005 and is available from Ghostlight Records, an imprint of Sh-K-Boom Records.

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 Shenkin on board, and they worked together with Feldman to transform the improvisation show into a scripted full-length musical.

Spelling Bee was workshopped and developed at the Barrington Stage Company (BSC), where Julianne Boyd is the Artistic Director, in the Massachusettsmarker Berkshires 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 and summer productions and the Broadway production. Dana Harrel produced both productions as the Producer of Stage II at BSC. A few 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 Craig were added to the cast, and a full script was created. The musical moved Off-Broadway to the Second Stage Theatre on January 11, 2005, where it enjoyed critical and box-office success.

Spelling Bee premiered on Broadwaymarker at the Circle in the Square Theatremarker on April 15, 2005 and closed on January 20, 2008 after 1,136 performances.

The director was James Lapine and the choreographer Dan Knechtges. Marty Kopulsky was the hair/wig Designer for both the off-Broadway and Broadway productions. The show won Tony Awards for Best Book (Rachel Sheinkin) and Best Featured Actor (Dan Fogler).

Characters

Major characters


  • Rona Lisa Peretti: The #1 Realtor in Putnam County, a former Putnam County Spelling Bee Champ and returning moderator. She is a sweet woman who loves children but can be very stern when it comes to dealing with 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 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 says/sings 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 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 20th Annual Bee, but he claims to be in "a better place" now, 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 Indiamarker, and her father is working late, as usual, but he is trying to come at some time during the bee. She made friends with her dictionary at a very young age, helping her make it to the competition.


  • William 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.


  • Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre: Logainne is the youngest and most politically aware speller, often making comments about current political figures, with two overbearing gay men as parents. She is a bit of a neat freak, speaks with a lisp, and will be back next year.


  • Marcy Park: A recent transfer from Virginiamarker, Marcy placed 9th 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 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.


  • Leaf Coneybear: 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 first runner-up’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 insinuates that he is merely easily distracted. Most of the words he is assigned are South American rodents with amusing names.


  • Chip Tolentino ("Tripp Barrington" in the original workshop, "Isaac 'Chip' Berkowitz" in the Chicago production): A boy scout and champion of the 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, he returns to defend his title, 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 (the cast doubles these)
  • Carl Grubenierre: One of Schwartzandgrubenierre’s fathers; he has set on his heart on his little girl winning the Bee, no matter what he has to do, including sabotaging William’s foot. Played by the actor who plays Leaf.


  • Dan Schwartz: Schwartzandgrubenierre’s other father; he is slightly less insane than Carl but is still intent on his daughter winning the Bee. Played by the actor who plays Mitch.


  • Leaf’s Mom: Overprotective and doubtful of her son’s abilities to stand up to the competition. Played by the actress who plays Logainne.


  • Leaf’s Siblings: Marigold, Brooke, Pinecone, Landscape, Raisin, and Paul: Not very confident of Leaf’s abilities. Played by the actors who play Olive, Marcy, Chip and the volunteer 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. Played by the actors who play Miss Peretti and Mitch.


  • Jesus: Appears to Marcy in a moment of crisis. Played by the actor who plays Chip. When this actor is Asian (as he has been in the Boston, New York and San Francisco productions), a line to that effect is added.


  • Peggy Jenkins: Logainne's birth mother. Only mentioned (in "Woe is Me"). She lives in a trailer in "Kansas, Missouri"; she has some contact with Logainne and her two fathers. She is mentioned by Carl as Logainne's "B.M."


Casting history

The principal casts of notable productions of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Role Off-Broadway & Broadway
2005
Melbourne
2006
San Francisco
2006
Chicago
2006
Boston
2006
US Tour
2007
Austin
2009
Revival
2009
Rona Lisa Peretti Lisa Howard Marina Prior Betsy Wolfe Lucia Spina Betsy Wolfe Jennifer Simard Jill Blackwood Megan Mullally
Douglas Panch Jay Reiss Tyler Coppin Jim Cashman Bill Larkin Daniel Pierce James Kall Les McGehee Darrell Hammond
Mitch Mahoney Derrick Baskin Bert Labonte James Monroe Iglehart James Earl Jones II James Monroe Iglehart Alan H. Green Bernard Davis Derrick Baskin
Olive Ostrovsky Celia Keenan-Bolger Natalie O'Donnell Jenni Barber Cristen Paige Jenni Barber Lauren Worsham Lucy Jennings Jenny Slate
William Barfée Dan Fogler Magda Szubanski Jared Gertner Eric Roedinger Jared Gertner Eric Petersen Jose Villarreal Jonathan Aronoff
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre Sarah Saltzberg Christen O'Leary Sara Inbar Christine Werny Sara Inbar Sarah Stiles Amy Downing Sarah Inbar
Marcy Park Deborah S. Craig Natalie Mendoza Greta Lee Jen Sese Greta Lee Katie Boren Eve Alonzo Lisa J. Todd
Leaf Coneybear Jesse Tyler Ferguson Tim Wright Stanley Bahorek Derrick Trumbly Stanley Bahorek Michael Zahler Joseph Banks John Tartaglia
Chip Tolentino Jose Llana David Campbell Aaron J. Albano Brad Weinstock Aaron J. Albano Miguel Cervantes Andrew Cannata Miguel Serantes


Notable Broadway replacements have included Barrett Foa and Stanley Bahorek as Leaf, Greta Lee as Marcy, Jenni Barber as Olive, Sara Inbar as Logainne, Jennifer Simard as Rona, Jessica-Snow Wilson as Olive, Aaron J. Albano as Chip, and Mo Rocca and Darrell Hammond as Mr. Panch.

Subsequent productions

The first production outside the United States was at the Melbourne Theatre Company in Melbournemarker, Australia in January 2006. It starred Marina Prior as Ms. Peretti, David Campbell as Chip, and Magda Szubanski as William. The production was then presented by the Sydney Theatre Company in Sydneymarker, 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.

There were productions in San Franciscomarker opening on March 1, 2006 at the Post Street Theatre and closing on September 3, 2006; in Chicagomarker beginning on March 28, 2006 at the Drury Lane Theatre – Water Tower Place; and in Bostonmarker opening at the Wilbur Theatre on September 26, 2006 and closing December 31, 2006. The majority of the San Francisco cast moved to the Boston production.

The Equity U.S. National Tour began in Baltimore, Marylandmarker at the Hippodrome Theatre on September 19, 2006 and, as of June 2007, had visited 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.

In 2007, the first translated production opened in Seoulmarker, South Korea, with all of the music and dialogue in Korean, but the words that were spelled were in English. In September 2008, a German-language adaptation premiered as Der 25 Pattenser Buchstabierwettbewerb.[150307]

The first performance in-the-round was at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts from August 12-31 2008.

In October 2008, a production opened at the Oscar theatre company [150308]. In November 2008, Auckland Theatre Company [150309] staged the first professional production of the show in New Zealand.

The 2008-2009 Non-Equity U.S. National Tour premiered on October 11, 2008 at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley, Coloradomarker, with an official opening in Fort Collins, Coloradomarker on October 14.

In March/April 2009, Atlantis Productions staged the show in the Philippines.http://www.atlantisproductionsinc.com/]

In May/June 2009, the musical opened at The Spotlight Theatre,[150310] 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 Australiamarker production was directed by Kimberley Shaw. It opened on May 9, 2009 and ran until May 30, 2009. [150311]

The musical returned to Barrington Stage Company, where it originated, in 2009, where it ran from June 15 to July 21, 2009. The production includes several cast members from the touring company and was a co-production with North Shore Theatre. In August 2009, Mason Street Warehouse (www.masonstreetwarehouse.org) producuction was directed by Kurt Stamm. It opened on August 14 and ran through August 31, 2009.

The musical opened on August 7 for the first time (as a regional premier) in the southeast at the Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, TN. There, it was directed by Dave Landis and Assistant Director Bryan Robinson, featuring Michael Gravois, Nicole Renèe Hale, Thomas "TeKay" King, Jenny Odle Madden, Pete Montgomery, Stephen Andrew Parker, David Ryan, Lauro Stracko and Lili Thomas. The technical designers were: Costume Design by Revecca Y. Powell; Lighting Design by Ben Wheeler; Scenic Design by Kathy Haaga, Sound Design by Rory Dale. The Production Stage Manager was Katharine Subblefield and the Assistant Stage Manager and Properties Designer was Rebecca Cannon. Jay Morris was the Technical Director. The Music Director and Conductor was Renèe Kemper. The show was Co-Choreagraphed by Coutney Oliver. The show ran from August 7, 2009 through September 6, 2009. The show was a success and was embraced by all audiences.

Matt Byrne Media presented the South Australian premiere of the show opening at the Goodwood Institute on 30th September 2009. After 13 performances at Goodwood, the production moved to The Shedley Theatre, Elizabeth, where a further 5 performances were staged.

Musical numbers

(Songs are not listed in the Playbill since with audience members on stage, the timing of the "Goodbye" songs varies with each show.)
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Company
  • The Spelling Rules/My Favorite Moment of the Bee – Ms. Peretti and Company
  • My Friend, the Dictionary – Olive and Company
  • The First Goodbye – Mr. Panch and Spellers
  • Pandemonium – Mr. Panch, Spellers and Mitch
  • I'm Not That Smart – Leaf, Spellers and Mr. Panch
  • The Second Goodbye – Panch and Spellers
  • Magic Foot – William, Ms. Peretti and Company
  • Pandemonium (Reprise)/My Favorite Moment of the Bee (Reprise) – Ms. Peretti and Company
  • Why We Like Spelling – Leaf and Spellers (This song is no longer in the show, but is used during promotional performances.)
  • Prayer of the Comfort Counselor – Mitch, Mr. Panch and Spellers
  • My Unfortunate Erection (Chip's Lament) – Chip
  • Woe Is Me – Logainne, Carl, Dan and Company
  • I'm Not That Smart (Reprise) – Leaf
  • I Speak Six Languages – Marcy, Ms. Peretti and Girls
  • The I Love You Song – Olive, Her Parents, and Mr. Panch
  • Woe Is Me (Reprise) – Logainne, William and Olive
  • My Favorite Moment of the Bee (Reprise)/Second – Ms. Peretti, Mr. Panch, William, Olive and Company
  • Finale – Ms. Peretti and Company
  • The Last Goodbye – Company


The original Broadway cast recording was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Epilogue

Immediately preceding the Finale song, each character gives a brief history of his or her character after the spelling bee.
  • Marcy Park continued to explore the freedom of not living up to expectations. She later wrote a book called Not Living Up to Expectations. It did not live up to expectations. She is very happy.
  • Chip Tolentino made it through adolescence and over the course of time, came to accept his erection, as did many others.
  • Leaf Coneybear has cats.
  • Olive Ostrovsky reenacted the entire bee for her father on the car ride home. She grew up to become a loving and attentive parent, and the host of her own radio talk show, where every year she would interview the runner-up of the Putnam County Spelling Bee.
  • William Morris Barfée studied for Nationals with his new good friend, Olive Ostrovsky. He came in 42nd, and that was all right because in later years, he grew up to become incredibly handsome. He gained great respect and notoriety for his pioneering efforts in the combined scientific fields of psychiatry and podiatry—otherwise known as posychiatry.
  • Logainne Schwartzandgrubeinerre won the 31st Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, on her seventh try and final year of eligibility. She went on to become Secretary of Education under President Angelina Jolie. Her speech therapy was completely successful.
  • Vice Principal Douglas Panch found a new passion in his life, and it was Rona Lisa Peretti. After courting her tirelessly for over two years, she took out a restraining order on him. Still, he was grateful for the opportunity to have experienced love.
  • Rona Lisa Peretti left Putnam County for a stretch and traveled the world, bringing competitive spelling to the less fortunate. She hosted national Bees in Latvia, Sweden, and the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. There she fell in love with an indigenous cashew farmer and became one of the top realtors in that country.
  • Mitch Mahoney discovered a new talent so he made his community service lifelong, comforting eliminated spellers and frustrated educators across the nation. Over the years, he remained in touch with scores of people that he comforted. (At this point, after Mitch finishes his blurb, all of the other characters simultaneously say "Thanks, Mitch!")


Audience interaction and words used

Audience interaction
About a half 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. 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 14 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, William 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 all unscripted and are improvised by the cast. Past examples include: Cenacle, Elephant, Hemidemisemiquaver, Homunculus, Cow, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.

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

Awards

Tony Awards

Theatre World Awards

Drama Desk Awards
  • Outstanding New Musical (Nominee)
  • Outstanding Book of a Musical (Winner)
  • Outstanding Director of a Musical (James Lapine, Winner)
  • Outstanding Lyrics (nominee)
  • Outstanding Music (nominee)
  • Outstanding Ensemble Performance (Winner)


References

  1. 'Bee' Spells Farewell January 20, 2008 from Broadwayworld.com
  2. Playbill News: Original Spelling Bee Cast to Reunite for Musical's L.A. Debutplaybill.com
  3. North Shore Music Theatre
  4. "Playhouse on the Square"
  5. [1]
  6. "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at TicketMayor.com.
  7. Julie Andrews guest-stars on Spelling Bee, from Broadway.com


External links




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