Show History

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.