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Review - The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: hilariously funny

The cast of Spelling Bee. Photo by David Harrison, Turn It Up Photography.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Music and Lyrics by William Finn

Book by Rachel Sheinkin

Conceived by Rebecca Feldman

Directed by Beth Child

Musical Director Grace Cockburn

Pine Rivers Musical Association

Sandgate Town Hall, \\


Season has finished.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was based on 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. It was later transformed into a scripted full length musical by Feldman in association with Rachel Sheinkin. The musical opened in 2005 on Off Broadway where it enjoyed both critical and box office success. It later premiered on Broadway and ran for three years where it won the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for best book. It’s a great show.

This is a hilariously funny play featuring six eccentric “sixth grade students” and three equally quirky adults. This delightful night of theatre was well directed professionally by the highly experienced Beth Child with musical director Grace Cockburn, and Choreographer, Maureen Bowra, both equally talented artists.

After a slightly shaky start, we enjoyed a vibrant, bright, and energetic musical.

What a great band too - the balance with the singers was fabulous. Quite simply it was a great marriage. The choreography was lively and didn’t distract - it melded with the fast paced story line and we enjoyed beautiful harmonies and some really exciting singing. The show deserved a full house.

The Spelling Bee and the words posed by the Vice Principal (Andrew ‘Panda’ Haden) ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous (I mean, who in the world would not know how to spell “cow”)? Certainly these members of the audience would be curious as to whether some of the words were even real. (Must check the dictionary)

The character of Mitch was played by William Toft who had a good voice, put in an enjoyable performance and had perfect timing on some of the best comedy lines in the show. He was there, ostensibly to console losers but we found out he was actually doing community service.

Olive (Melanie Bolovan) and Barfee (Georgina Purdie) were bright and enthusiastic. Georgina did an excellent job performing as an arrogant allergy prone male. She had the best comedy timing in the show and had the audience in hysterics. Olive was appealing, curious and we all wanted her to win.

A touching scene featured Olive’s parents. The voice of the mother (Samantha Paterson) was beautiful and true. Credit must be given to Samantha for her other role in the show as Rona Lisa Peretti, realtor and past winner and MC.

Accents were very good and the involvement of “audience” members was good fun.

The second act of the play became more tense and slightly darker as contestants dropped out and emotions became more exposed. As the show progressed we became involved in their backgrounds, squabbles, and hopes. We had the occasional wonky note as happens in any production, amateur or professional.

The final two contestants resolved their differences and the play ends on a high note

It’s a pity that the night we saw the show the auditorium was only half full. The microphones had obviously been set for the full house that this musical deserved, so they were a bit too loud.

You couldn’t help but come out smiling even if you couldn’t remember any of the songs.

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