The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

07/11/2008 - 29/11/2008

Production Details


The tension is palpable, the excitement is mounting and the heady scent of competition is in the air as six deliciously geeky, philologically industrious twelve-year-olds from across the county take part in what is undoubtedly one of the greatest events of their lives – THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, on at SKYCITY Theatre from November 6.

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is inspired by Spellbound, the hilarious documentary starring teen spelling geniuses competing in the US Spelling Bee Final.

A runaway hit when it first opened on Broadway, the musical has since won the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Book of a Musical, four Helpmann awards including Best Musical, and the Lucille Lortel award for Best Musical.

"Can you spell I-R-R-E-S-I-S-T-I-B-L-E? A riotously runny and entirely adorable new musical" New York Times

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE stars Jackie Clarke as the queen of the bee marshalling six compellingly geeky 12 year olds through the trials of spelling mania. Hilarious scenes ensue as the contestants cope with fanatical spelling parents, dastardly sabotage attempts, teenage crushes and puberty!

"Warm and fuzzy may be totally unfashionable, but this little Broadway musical about spelling is g-o-l-u-p-t-i-o-u-s (delicious…) …a hilarious evening of entertainment" The Melbourne Age

As Principal Partner of the Auckland Theatre Company, New Zealand Post is pleased to support THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE season, said Chief Executive, John Allen.

"This entertaining take on the spelling bee culture is a proven audience pleaser, but for us there is an additional attraction behind the humour.

That is its association with literacy, which is central to many of our community initiatives, including a variety of book and poetry awards aimed at developing literacy and writing talent in New Zealand."

Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE "irresistible and entirely lovable and riotously funny." Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal called the show "the best in town – that rarity of rarities, a super-smart show that is also a bona fide crowd-pleaser." David Rooney of Variety stated that, "this winning new musical is so generously warm-heated, only the most bitter misanthrope could resist its charms." Michael Sommers of the Star-Ledger called it "a nifty musical gift," and Linda Winer of Newsday deemed it "endearingly deranged." Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press simply asked, "How do you spell h-i-t?"

SKYCITY Theatre, November 6 -29
Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm,
Thursday – Saturday 8.00pm
Matinee Saturday November  at 2.00pm
Sundays 4.00pm

Tickets: $25 – $54 (booking fees apply)  
Tickets are available from TICKETEK or  <>

Rona Lisa Peretti / Olive's mother Jackie Clarke
Vice Principal Douglas Panch Eryn Wilson 
Olive Ostrovsky Christina Cusiel
Chip Tolentino Cameron Douglas
Willam Barfée Semu Filipo  
Leaf Coneybear Kristian Lavercombe
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre Madeleine Sami
Marcy Park Esther Stephens
Mitch Mahoney Jason Te Patu 

Piano/Conductor - Grant Winterburn
Percussion - Barry Widerstrom
Cello - Miriam Hartmann 
Reeds - Jim Langabeer  
Keyboards - Terence Penk 

Production Manager Mark Gosling
Technical Manager Bonnie Burrill
Rehearsal Stage Manager Carol Harding
Stage Manager Mitchell Turei
Assistant Stage Manager Nicola Blackman
Lighting Operator Robert Hunte
FOH Audio Operator Ratu Gordon
Onstage Audio Jesse Abernathy
Flymen Bernie Brown, Ray Pafalani
Properties Master Bec Ehlers
Wardrobe Supervisor & Construction Cathy Pope
Set Construction 2 Construct
Volunteer Coordinators Candice De Villiers, Glen Pickering, Lynne Cardy

1hr 45 mins, no interval

Teen neuroses mix with devotion to spelling

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 10th Nov 2008

In a period of uncertainty when proper usage is under siege from the weirdly phonetic truncations of txtng, there is something deeply appealing in a spelling competition. The zealous pursuit of correctness and unquestioning respect for the infallible authority of the dictionary reminds us of a less complicated time.

Although The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee keeps the emphasis firmly on the comedy, there are moments when devotion to accurate spelling spills over into an endearing love of language. Seldom-used words like crepuscule and chimerical are found to offer a precise description of the emotional turmoil of the show’s troubled teens. [More]


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Jocose euphonious apologue

Review by Nik Smythe 09th Nov 2008

At the outset there’s a sense of irony that a full scale musical has been produced about an event as altogether trivial as a spelling bee.  Then as the characters take us through the iconically American contest, typically the battleground for pubescent geeks, the validity of the concept is made clear somehow through the expression of the distinct characters. 

Lead diva Jackie Clarke chaperones the auspicious proceedings as Miss Rona Lisa Poretti, expert host and herself a past champion.  Eryn Wilson, as eccentric and long-suffering vice principal Doug Panch, holds the venerable responsibility of reading the words, and the definitions and sample sentences where requested.  The potential for gags and innuendo within the familiar spelling bee structure is heavily mined, and to good effect.

The ten eager finalists comprise the winners from the local districts that make up the proud apple-pie county of Putnam, New York.  Four of them are in fact audience members selected from applications filled out in the theatre foyer before the show.  The remaining six rivals are genuine cast members and between them cover a handful of well known stereotypes and one or two you might not have thought of. 

The unique individual styles of each contestant are brought to light as they take their respective turns.  Rotund superstitious hypochondriac Willam Barfée (Semu Filipo) relies on a magic foot.  Frustrated overachiever Marcy Park (Esther Stephens) practically does it in her sleep, with contempt to spare.  The extra-lively Leaf Coneybear (Kristian Lavercombe) is evidently possessed by a rather handy divine spiritual force of some kind.

Others take a more typical, studious approach.  Madeleine Sami’s lisping militant liberal activist Logainne competes to fulfill the hopes of her two gay fathers, whilst the desperately determined Olive Ostrovsky, played by Christina Cusiel, competes in the hope her father might pay her any attention at all.  Boyscout Chip Tollentino (Cameron Douglas) has no-one in particular to impress, but still has to deal with the anxieties and other issues brought on by adolescence…

Each time one of the players misspells their word, a song and dance is literally made to escort them off.  This includes the hapless audience participants, who on opening night came to the party with aplomb (particularly Mr Thomas North, allegedly a genuine NZ representative international spelling bee contestant with a teeshirt to prove it).  These farewell serenades are invariably lead by Jason Te Patu, who plays endearing Rastafarian Mitch Mahoney filling the role of ‘comfort counselor’ as part of his community service.

In a way I kind of wish each of the variably loveable characters could have won; and in a way they kind of do, through personal victories that range from small to vaguely profound.  Murray Lynch shows a deft ability to direct musical comedy, aided greatly by the enormously talented cast of youthful, energetic players. 

The entire company appears to be having a great time, testament to the refreshingly bright script of Rachel Sheinkin and the uplifting compositions of William Finn.  Sheinkin’s work is based on original concept innovator Rebecca Feldman, and at least a small amount has clearly been devised by the company to incorporate fresh, topical issues such as the unsuccessful McCain/ Palin campaign.

Musical Director Grant Winterburn and choreographer Sacha Copland also have Finn to thank for the basis of their sterling work, and again they could not want for a finer troupe of performers to realise the dynamic arrangements and routines.

John Parker’s set is a typical school gymnasium.  The contestants are seated in the grandstand facing the theatre audience and we get a cheery view of bright blue sky in the overhanging windows, which effectively transform to visually punctuate various ensemble numbers and soliloquies.  Where Parker has really had fun is in the costume design.  Each of the nine main characters are somewhat perfectly represented in their exemplary garniture, from Logainne’s militant badge-peppered beret to Willam’s ultra-shiny black shoes.

I confess that after the show I played dictionary with my friends into the wee hours instead of getting on with this review.  When I finally got to it I spent the first half an hour on the title.  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a welcome reminder that words are fun. 


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