The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Six awkward spelling champions learn that winning (and losing) isn't everything.
Show Essentials
9
Roles
12
Rated
1
Act

Full Synopsis

In a high school gym, long time hostess Rona Lisa Peretti finalizes the preparations for the annual county spelling bee, reminiscing about her own spelling bee victory many years prior. The current crop of spelling contenders arrives ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"). The contestants include last year's champ Chip (a boy scout), Schwarzy (the youngest and most politically aware contestant), Coneybear (the somewhat wide-eyed offspring of hippie parents), Barfee (an allergy-plagued student), Marcy (an over-achieving Asian-American), and Olive (a tentative newcomer).

Rona also calls on four volunteers from the audience to join the competition (these are real audience members who have been selected through an interview process before the show).

It is revealed that Olive has failed to pay her $25 entrance fee, but Rona assure her that it will be worked out later. Barfee rudely fends off Olive's attempts to befriend him. Rona introduces Vice Principal Douglas Panch, a last-minute substitute word pronouncer, and Mitch Mahoney, a menacing ex-con who is serving as "Comfort Counselor" as part of his community service sentence. Panch, Rona and the spellers review the contest's elimination-style rules ("The Rules").

The contest begins. As the students are individually called upon, Rona provides color commentary, revealing background info about each of them. A flashback reveals that Coneybear only made in into this contest because his school's winner and first runner-up were unable to attend due to a Bar Mitzvah. He appears to have no hope of spelling words correctly, but snaps into abrupt trances during which he performs perfectly.

Olive reflects on a lonely childhood where her main source of companionship (and spelling excellence) was a dictionary ("My Friend the Dictionary"). The audience volunteers are also called upon to participate. Volunteers who answer incorrectly are eliminated ("Goodbye #1"). Barfee uses a bizarre "magic foot" technique to spell his words.

Rona reveals that Marcy placed high in the ranking for last year's national spelling bee, impressing all of the contestants. One of the audience volunteers is asked to spell "cow", prompting outrage from the contestants. The contest swings into high gear ("Pandemonium") as Panch requests spellings for words that vary enormously in their level of difficulty.

A flashback reveals Schwarzy drilling for the contest with her two overbearing gay dads. Coneybear, for the second consecutive time, is asked to spell a word related to South American rodents. He confesses that his family does not consider him to be particularly intelligent ("I'm Not That Smart").

Barfee calls upon his magic foot technique to help him spell the word hasenpfeffer ("Magic Foot"). By this point in the contest, all but one of the audience volunteers have probably been eliminated. Chip is eliminated after getting distracted by seeing Coneybear's attractive sister, Marigold, in the audience ("Pandemonium - reprise"). Mitch escorts him from the stage ("Chip Goodbye").

Rona is excited by the unexpected early elimination of last year's champ ("Rona Moment #2").

The final audience volunteer is eliminated when asked to spell a ridiculously difficult word. Mitch consoles the loser ("Prayer of the Comfort Counselor").

During a snack break, Chip distributes free candy to the audience and laments the fact that his sexual arousal cost him a victory in the spelling bee ("My Unfortunate Erection"). Chip bickers with Barfee and terrorizes him with a packet of peanut M&Ms before being ejected. Olive comforts Barfee.

As the break ends and the bee resumes, Schwarzy reflects on the tremendous pressure placed on her by her dads ("Woe is Me"). A lighting-fast blaze of spelling ensues, and Coneybear is eliminated when he fails to spell chinchilla correctly ("I'm Not That Smart" - reprise).

Rona reveals that Marcy speaks six languages. Marcy is exasperated at always being thought of as superior in every way ("I Speak Six Languages"). She is asked to spell the word camouflage, whereupon she rhetorically exclaims "Dear Jesus, can't you come up with a harder word than that." Jesus Christ immediately appears, much to her astonishment. Jesus reveals that he doesn't care who wins this contest. Marcy, relieved, deliberately misspells her word, joyfully eliminating herself.

Only Schwarzy, Olive and Barfee remain. Olive receives a phone call from her dad. Taking advantage of the pause, Schwarzy seizes the microphone and makes a political statement. One of Schwarzy's dads attempts to sabotage Barfee by pouring a can of coke onto the stage, hoping the stickiness will immobilize Barfee's magic foot. It is implied that Olive's father is unwilling to pay her $25 entrance fee.

Olive is given the word "chimerical", which means "wildly fanciful and highly unrealistic." This prompts her to fantasize about her neglectful parents ("The I Love You Song").

Barfee's magic foot is foiled by the spilled coke, but he manages to spell "crepuscule" correctly anyway. Schwarzy is eliminated ("Woe is Me - reprise"). Only two spellers remain, and Rona is breathless with excitement ("Rona Moment #3").

After a volley of correctly spelled words, Olive misspells a word ("Second, Part One") and Barfee hesitates before claiming victory, sensitive to Olive's feelings. Olive reassures him, and he claims the victory. Panch, taking pity on Olive, invents a $25 prize for "runner up", which he produces out of his own pocket to cover Olive's entrance fee. Rona is moved by Panch's kind gesture. Olive and Barfee warmly congratulate each other.

A series of epilogues reveal the future fates of the characters, and explains how their experiences during the spelling bee shaped each of their lives ("Finale").

Casting

Casting

Cast Size: Flexible Cast Size
Cast Type: Ensemble Cast
Dance Requirements: Standard

Character Breakdown

Chip Tolentino
An athletic, social, boy scout and champion of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, he returns to defend his title, but he finds puberty hitting at an inopportune moment.
Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere (Schwartzy)

Logainne is the youngest and most politically aware speller, often making comments about current political figures. She is driven by internal and external pressure, but above all by a desire to win to make her two fathers proud. She is somewhat of a neat freak, speaks with a lisp, and will be back next year.

Leaf Coneybear
The second runner-up in his district, Leaf gets into the competition on a lark and finds everything about the bee incredibly amusing. He is home-schooled and comes from a large family of former hippies. He has severe Attention Deficit Disorder and spells words correctly while in a trance.
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. 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.
Marcy Park

The ultimate over-achiever, Marcy has never been given another option. She comes from a family where excellence is expected and so simply produced. A parochial school student, she assumes God, too, expects perfection. She sees herself as a mass of problems but she keeps them to herself. Having moved often because of her parents' work, she knows she can beat the local competition. Her many talents include piano, dance, martial arts, baton twirling, and/or whatever special gifts you can find in your casting pool.

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. Having found comfort in its words and vastness, Olive made friends with her dictionary at a very young age, helping her to make it to the competition. She starts enormously shy, and shyly blossoms.
Rona Lisa Peretti
The number-one realtor in Putnam County, a former Putnam County Spelling Bee Champion herself, and the 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 and his feelings for her. Her interest in the competition is unflagging and drives it forward.
Douglas Panch
The Vice Principle. Frustrated with his life, he finds the drive of the young spellers alien to him. 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, 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. He has no idea how to offer comfort, but does find himself wishing he could find a way to make the kids feel better.
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.
Full Song List
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: The Spelling Rules/My Favorite Moment of the Bee
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: My Friend, the Dictionary
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: The First Goodbye
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Pandemonium
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: I'm Not That Smart
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: The Second Goodbye
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Magic Foot
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Pandemonium (Reprise)/My Favorite Moment of the Bee 2
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Why We Like Spelling
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Prayer of the Comfort Counselor
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: My Unfortunate Erection (Chip's Lament)
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Woe is Me
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: I'm Not That Smart (Reprise)
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: I Speak Six Languages
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: The I Love You Song
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Woe is Me (Reprise)
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: My Favorite Moment of the Bee 3/Second
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Finale
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: The Last Goodbye

Show History

Inspiration

Initially Spelling Bee started as a non-musical play entitled C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, done by the improvisational group "The Farm." One of the performers in the play, Sarah Saltzberg, happened to be the nanny of playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Impressed by what she saw, Wasserstein suggested to friend William Finn that he may be able to take the show to the next level. Finn, his former student Rachel Sheinkin, and C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E creator Rebecca Feldman worked together to turn the piece into a full-length musical.

Productions

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, first conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music/lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin, began development at the Barrington Stage Company of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in two different stages. First in February 2004, a workshop was done in which a first act and parts of a second act were created, and then later in July 2004 the script was fleshed out and the show was given a fuller production with direction by Feldman and Michael Unger and choreography by Dan Knechtges.

Following its development into a full-scale musical, Spelling Bee then moved Off-Broadway to the Second Stage Theatre under the direction of James Lapine with continued choreography by Dan Knechtges. Opening for previews on January 11, 2005, and officially on February 7, 2005, Spelling Bee received glowing reviews, sold out its limited engagement, broke box office records at Second Stage, and extended its run. Then with its eye on Broadway, the musical concluded its short but successful Off-Broadway stint on March 20, 2005.

One month later, on April 15, 2005, Spelling Bee transferred to Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre, again receiving outstanding critical and box-office achievement. The show closed on January 20, 2008 after 1,136 performances and has since lived on with huge success in 2 national tours, numerous international productions, and regional productions at such theaters as Drury Lane, North Shore Music Theatre, Barrington Stage, and Playhouse on the Square.

Cultural Influence

  • Though he had enjoyed some prior success, Jesse Tyler Ferguson's role as Leaf Coneybear in Spelling Bee helped boost his career, a few short years later leading to his star turn as Mitch on TVs Modern Family.
  • An Original Broadway Cast Album of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was released on May 31, 2005, by Ghostlight Records.

Trivia

  • 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.
  • Sarah Saltzberg, who was a part of Spelling Bee's original source material, C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, remained a part of the process all the way through to being an original cast member of the Broadway production.
  • Beyond the awards the musical won, Spelling Bee was nominated for an additional 4 Tony Awards, 3 Drama Desk Awards including one for Outstanding Musical and 2 Lucille Lortel awards. It s cast and creative team also won a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, a Lucille Lortel Award, and 2 Theatre World Awards.

Critical Reaction

Effortlessly endearing... gold stars all around. New York Times

Composer-lyricist William Finn and book writer Rachel Sheinkin's winsome and winning new musical is so generously warm-hearted, only the most bitter misanthrope could resist its charms. - Variety

Great news! The American musical comedy -- with equal emphasis on the "musical" part and the "comedy" part -- is alive and well& a treat and a half. TheatreMania

Delightful confection& remarkably effective. Time Out

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Requirements

Under the terms and conditions of your organisation’s Performance Agreement, the following credits must appear on all advertising (including websites) relating to the production. Credits must be reproduced faithfully in accordance with the following layout. No alterations or deletions can be permitted unless stated below.
Percentages listed indicate required type size in relation to title size.
You agree to bill the Play and the Authors and all other parties specified below in all programs, houseboards, displays and in all advertising and all paid publicity, in the following manner:
Specifically, you must bill the Play and the Authors and all other parties specified below as follows:
THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE 100%
Music and Lyrics by 
William Finn 50%
Book by
Rachel Sheinkin 50%
Conceived by
Rebecca Feldman 50%

 

Additional Material by 25%
Jay Reiss
Originally Directed on Broadway by James Lapine 25%
Originally produced on Broadway by 25%
David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo
Barrington Stage Company, Second Stage Theatre
 
You also agree to include the following on the staff credits page of any program, in capital letters and separated by a line from other staff, as follows:

In the first position:
Based upon C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original play by The Farm.

In the second position:
The Barrington Stage Company workshop of THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE was originally co-directed by Michael Barakiva and Rebecca Feldman.

In addition, the following biography must appear in all programs of the Play:
 
The Farm, was founded in 2000 by Rebecca Feldman. It was a collective of writers and performers including Jay Reiss, Dan Fogler, and Sarah Saltzberg who originated roles in C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E (Present Company Theatorium 2002), on which The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is based. The characters and original dialogue of "Vice Principal Douglas Panch," "William Barfee," Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere," and "Beth Marguiles" (prototype for "Olive Ostrovsky") were created by Jay Reiss, Dan Fogler, Sarah Saltzberg and Rebecca Feldman respectively. 
The videotaping or other video or audio recording of this production is strictly prohibited.

Included Materials

ItemQuantity Included
LIBRETTO/VOCAL BOOK12
PIANO CONDUCTOR'S SCORE2

Production Resources

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CUSTOMIZABLE SHOW POSTER
HOW DOES THE SHOW GO ON-10/CS
HOW DOES THE SHOW GO ON?
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LOGO TEES SIX-PACK ADULT X-LARGE
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LOGO TEES SIX-PACK CHILD MEDIUM
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STANDARD ORCHESTRATION

InstrumentationDoubling
CELLO
KEYBOARD 1
PERCUSSIONBELLS , BONGOS , BOWED CYMBAL , CABASA , DRUM KIT , DUMBEK , FINGER CYMBAL , GLOCKENSPIEL , MARACAS , METAL GUIRO , SHEKERE , SMALL TRIANGLE , SPLASH CYMBAL , SUSPENDED CYMBAL , TABLA , TAMBOURINE , TIMPANI , VIBES , WOODBLOCK , XYLOPHONE
REED 1ALTO SAXOPHONE , Bb CLARINET , FLUTE , OBOE