The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Kate Young
14th Sep 2023

Words have more power than given credit. Our words have the ability to help, to harm, to heal, to educate and to inspire. The words we choose and how we use them can build others up or tear them down; bring the community together or rip it apart.

In The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee we meet a diverse group of young people, all eagerly vying to be crowned winner. Each one propelled by a different motive and yet all with the common outcome, the feeling of self-worth. Former Champion Chip Tolentine (Mathew Predny) is here to defend his title, but it seems his raging hormone monster might be his number one opponent; youngest but most worldly is Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Adeline Hunter) only wants to make her gay dads proud; Free spirted Leaf Coneybear ( Axel Duffy) who's lived most his life labelled as the "dumb kid" is just happy to be included; Returning entrant, hyper - allergic William Barfee ( its pronounced Baa-fay and played with snivelling superbness by Daniel Raso) uses his 'magic foot' to lead him to victory; Marcy Park ( Jessica Kok) Is the newest transfer, an over achiever who is becoming more and more disheartened by her constant success; Last is sweet and shy Olive (Rebecca Ordiz) who arrives armed with a dictionary, the only true friend she can rely on; Supervised by grownups Ms Peretti (Katrina Retallick) a former Spelling Bee champ herself is a sweet and motherly woman, wearing her heart on her sleeve for both the children and competition; Vice Principal Douglas Panch (James Haxby) is returning after a five year absence and apologises for the 'incident' and attempt's to reassure us that he's in 'a better place'. Finally, is comfort counsellor Mitch Mahoney (Nathaniel Laga'aia), Mitch is fulfilling his community service obligations by helping out at the bee, handing out hugs and juice boxes to the eliminated students.  It’s a wonder that any of these adults have been given the role of responsible adult as they are all barely managing to keep it together themselves.

What follows are some hilarious, moving, and catchy songs, allowing each speller to tell their own story, about their hopes and dreams, what drives them in their quest for greatness, about their struggles to be excepted by peers and the constant pressure to live up to their parents' expectations or in some cases lack of. Growing up is hard, no matter whom you are. Trying to find a place where you fit in and people that you can connect with can be even harder.  To be smart is to be an outsider, to be seen as smart even worse. It’s a shame when what makes you so unique can also make you feel so alone. However, that is part of the charm. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee it’s a place where everyone can stand out and fit in all at the same time.

The creative minds behind this production should be very proud of what they have achieved, being able to take a much-loved Broadway classic and breathing new life into it. The true talent however is being able to take a show that’s been seen by many and making it completely your own. The musical itself embraces the use of spontaneity and improve; no two shows will ever be the same. Along with the outstanding cast, each night the audience members are asked to volunteer as contestants and in turn join the actors on stage. This is where the brilliance of all come into play, for if the actors aren't convincing in their portrayal, then incorporating these thespian imposters could make everything fall apart. Nonetheless, this is very talented cast and not once did the vail fall. Both Haxby and Retallick were on top of the ball, with quick and witty commentary emphasizing their skills for improvisation and provided some of the best one liners.  No matter how quirky these characters become, their feet are still firmly planted, preserving their humility. As an audience member you feel for them and you want to cheer them on, as evident when one of the most beloved characters was eliminated the whole audience deflated with a chorus of “awwwwwwww’s”

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee might at first seem like a simple plot but the complexity it takes to really make this musical sing is grand, but when you have a powerhouse of cast, some very intelligent direction/staging/choreography/lighting, a vibrant and colourful set that’s reminiscent of alphabet building blocks, that transform through rotations like a Rubik's cube, costuming that identifies the characters before they even speak and an extremely tight band then never misses a beat... well, you're bound to have a winner on your hands.

The cast is charming, and I truly can't pick out any stand outs because that would be like asking a parent who their favourite child is and if I'm being honest, I would be a proud parent to any of these lovable misfits.

With its fast-paced wit and vibrant score, this is an un-expectedly heart-warming experience. The world is E-u-d-a-e-m-o-n-i-c, Definition: producing happiness; based on the idea of happiness as the proper end of conduct. Used in a sentence: Getting to see this musical was a eudaemonic boost for the rest of my week.