The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a musical that features music and lyrics by William Finn and an award-winning book by Rachel Sheinkin. A one act comedy that centres on an American spelling bee competition, the show is set in a fictional High School. The contest itself is attended by a number of quirky high school students, played by adults, and is managed by some larger than life adult personalities. Originally opening on Broadway in 2005, the musical was directed by James Lapine and was hugely successful, winning both Tony and Drama Desk Awards. A set section of the show is improvised each night, allowing for audience participation, whereby four audience members are invited on stage to take part in the spelling bee and are eliminated throughout the piece. A London production opened at the Donmar Warehouse directed by Jamie Lloyd in 2011, and remains a popular choice for amateur and regional theatres across the country.


William Finn

William Finn

Rachel Sheinkin, Jay Reiss

Conceived by Rebecca Feldman

David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo, Barrington Stage Company and Second Stage Theatre

James Lapine (US), Jamie Lloyd (UK)

Dan Knechtges

Spelling Bee Original Broadway

Original Broadway Production

Circle in the Square - Opened 2 May 2005, closed 20 Jan 2008, 1136 performances

Cast: Lisa Howard (Rona Lisa Peretti), Jay Reiss (Douglas Panch), Derrick Baskin (Mitch Mahoney), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Olive Ostrovsky), Dan Fogler (William Barfee), Sarah Saltzberg (Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre), Deborah S. Craig (Marcy Park), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Leaf Coneybear), Jose Llana (Chip Tolentino)

Spelling Bee Donmar

Original London Production

Donmar Warehouse - Opened 21 Feb 2011, closed 2 Apr 2011

Cast: Katherine Kingsley (Rona Lisa Peretti), Steve Pemberton (Douglas Panch), Ako Mitchell (Mitch Mahoney), Hayley Gallivan (Olive Ostrovsky), David Fynn (William Barfee), Iris Roberts (Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre), Maria Lawson (Marcy Park), Chris Carswell (Leaf Coneybear), Harry Hepple (Chip Tolentino)

What was your favourite production? Add your thoughts in the comments box


Twitter Synopsis:

A group of competitive spellers enter a contest to prove who can tick off the most words and take away the shiny trophy!

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The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee begins with a flashback from spelling bee judge Rona Peretti, who enters the gymnasium and hears herself winning the third annual bee all those years ago. This years spellers are revealed and they are each introduced to the audience. As the guests take their seats, Rona introduces Douglas Panch as the official word reader, along with comfort counsellor Mitch Mahoney, who is serving his community service. They all take the pledge of allegiance and Panch gives the rules of the contest. Each of the spellers begin and we start to learn about their characters through flashbacks. Olive is the first up and is very shy. She tells about “My Friend the Dictionary”, who she has come to know thanks to her mother always being away from home.

Next up is Leaf Coneybear, who only came in third in his regional competition but became a finalist later by default. In the previous rounds he spelled words thanks to an unknown trance. William Barfee uses his foot to spell the words visually before saying anything. One of the audience members gets given a simple word, resulting in “Pandemonium” as the contestants discuss the luck of the draw. Leaf is called up again, and falls into a trance, not before he admits that “I’m Not That Smart” and ends up getting through. Barfee sings about his technique and his “Magic Foot”.

Last year’s winner Chip Tolentino is fantasising about Leaf’s sister in the audience and is reluctant to take the stand because his erection is showing. He spells the word wrong and is eliminated. As the spellers take a break, Chip reappears selling snacks to the audience, “My Unfortunate Erection” the reason he blames for losing out. Barfee begins to develop a crush on Olive. Logainne is introduced and she tells of her two overbearing gay dads who pressure her to succeed. Marcy is called up and she tells the audience that “I Speak Six Languages”. She intentionally misspells her word.

Olive is next up and is upset to see that her parent’s haven’t been able to make it to see her. The others are gradually eliminated as it gets down to the final two people. Olive and Barfee continue to flirt and Olive misspells her word intentionally, and Barfee takes the trophy. Each character re-enters and tells their epilogue.

  • “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
  • “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” – Rona, Barfée, Olive and Company
  • “Finale” – Company
  • “The Last Goodbye” – Company

2005 Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Book of a Musical (Rachel Sheinkin), Outstanding Ensemble Performance, Outstanding Director of a Musical (James Lapine)

2005 Tony Awards: Best Book of a Musical (Rachel Sheinkin), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Dan Fogler)


UK: Josef Weinberger

USA: Musical Theatre International