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The 25th Annual Putnam County


Cover to Original Broadway Cast Recording

A Musical in 1 Act (1hr 45 min - intermission): Lyrics by: William Finn; Music by: William Finn; Book by: Rachel Sheinkin.

Circle in the Square Theatre, New York; Opened 2 May, 2005.


A junior high school gym is set up to host the county spelling finals. Winners from local elementary and middle schools begin to arrive and check in with the bee's long-time hostess—and Former champion—Rona Lisa Pereti. Audience volunteers are also welcomed to the stage. A glitch: Speller Olive Ostrovsky does not have her entrance Fee; she hopes her father will set there soon to straighten it out. Vice Principal Douglas Panch of Lake Hemingway-Dos Passos Junior High is announced as the day's word pronouncer - he's a last minute substitute for an ailing superintendent. Panch has a dubious track record at the bee but will try to do better this time. The rules are explained. When a speller misses a word a bell will ring - ding - and the speller must immediately leave the stage, escorted, by the bee's coumfort-counsellor, Mitch Mahoney.

The Spelling Begins

Ten-year old Logainne Schwarzandsrubeniere, whose two dads have helped her train for the event, gets through "strabismus' despite a potentially incapacitating lisp. Leaf Coneybear, second runner up in his own bee, surprises himself and his family in the audience by spelling his word correctly. Olive interrupts her own spelling to protect the chair she saved for her dad. Soon spellers begin to fall. Chip Tolentino, lost year's Putnam champion, leads spellers in grumbling about the inconsistent word level, a point brought home when Marcy Park, Catholic school representative, nails 'phylactery' and the very next speller gets 'telephone'.

Leof gets another word he's never heard of and amazes himself by finding the correct spelling within. But no one has a technique as remarkable as that of the boy with the rare mucus membrane disorder, William Barffe, who spells his words out with his foot.

As spellers continue to fall, Chip is distracted by Leaf's sister in the audience. Why did she have to wear such a fuzzy sweater? Losing concentration Chip backtracks to spell a word correctly — in violation of the rules, which state that you, cannot adjust letters once spoken. Comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney marvels at the odd anthropology of the event- and tries to teach future eliminated spellers to exit with some dignity.

AF the snack break, Chip is made to help wth the PTA bake sale. Humiliated, he begins throwing snacks into the audience. He also throws peanuts at the highly allergic William Barfee. Olive comes William's aid but unused to sympathy, he initially responds with hostility.

Really the only thing to do is to continue spelling but 'Schwarzy' first takes a moment to thank her dads. Round after round of spelling continues in fast-motion. These last five are fierce and furious spellers; no one's getting anything wrong. Park doesn't even hesitate, Barfee's foot is unfailing and Coneybear is realising the impossible: that he might, after all, be smart, until "ding" Leaf misses on yeoman, all-too-reasonably leaving out the "e". The bell's echo sends him off — in his own mind, undefeated.

The final four. Miss Park looks unbeatable. After all, Rona tells us, this girl speaks five languages. But Marcy's had enough. Sick of being presented as the perfect student; she launches into a protest, which at once shows off her skills and bemoans their tyranny in her life. Only Jesus' unexpected entrance gives this parochial school girl permission to liberate herself from perfection.

Down to three and Schwarzy wants it bad. But Panch is tired of all the questions, and loses his temper at her thorough questioning. One of Schwarzy's dads runs onstage, ostensibly to comfort his distraught daughter, but really to plant sabotage — the target is Barfee's magic foot. Meanwhile Olive's father leaves a message with Rona: he's stuck at work, and will have to discuss the entrance fee later. Olive struggles to keep spelling. On Barfee's turn, the foot sabotage half works — he encounters a sticky substance that derails his technique — but he rallies and finds he can spell without the foot.

It's anyone's bee. Only, "ding" not Schwarzy's. She's defeated by her own thorough thinking, over-complicating a simple word.

Down to two: Olive and Barfee. As they go head to head, they find joy in their sense of competence and connection. And Barfee has a new, unsettling experience: worrying about someone else. Still, only one can take home the two hundred dollar savings bond — and in the end it is William who outspells them all and tearfully accepts cheque and trophy. Panch then announces a surprise runner-up cash prize. It happens to match the amount of the entrance fee that Olive still owes — and it happens to came out of Panch's own wallet — but Olive, none the wiser, is thrilled. Rona gets the gesture — and her acknowledgment makes even vice Principal Panch feel like a winner.

Rachel Sheinkin

Musical Numbers

  1. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - Company
  2. The Spelling Rules/my Favourite Moment of the Bee - Panch, Rona and Spellers
  3. My Friend the Dictionary - Panch, Rona, Olive & Company
  4. The First Goodbye - Company
  5. Pandemonium - Chip & Company
  6. I'm Not That Smart - Leaf Coneybear
  7. The Second Goodbye - Company
  8. Magic Foot - Mr. Barfee & Company
  9. Pandemonium (Reprise) - Chip, Mitch, Rona & Company
  10. My Favourite Moment of the Bee 2
  11. Prayer of the Comfort Counsellor - Mitch & Company
  12. Why We Like Spelling - Spellers
  13. My Unfortunate Erection (Chip's Lament) - Chip
  14. Woe Is me - Schwarzy, Schwarzy' Dads & Company
  15. I'm Not That Smart (Reprise) - Coneybear
  16. I Speak Six Languages - Marcy & Girls
  17. The I Love You Song - Olive, Rona & Mitch
  18. Woe Is me (Reprise) - Schwarzy & Company
  19. My Favourite moment of the Bee 3
  20. Second - Rona, Olive, Barfee & Company
  21. Finale - Company
  22. The Last Goodbye - The Company