The Upper School musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee had audiences laughing, cringing, and spelling on February 8, 9, and 10. The show about middle school students participating in a regional spelling contest brought audience members back to moments from their childhood while also conveying an important message: you can create your own path.
The show opened with Renée Petersen, Class of 2019, as Rona Lisa Peretti walking into the Putnam County gymnasium and reliving her own spelling bee experience. From there audience members met the spellers of the 25th Annual Bee as they introduced themselves onstage. After all the spellers are onstage they get introduced to Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Lara Malmstrom, Class of 2020, the pronouncer who used to have anger management issues, or so he claims. Panch introduces the comfort counselor of the Bee Mitch Mahoney, played by Payton Ferris, Class of 2019, who is helping out at the bee as part of his parole. Mahoney introducers the spellers from the audience and leads everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance before the Bee officially begins.
In the rest of act one, we got introduced to the main spellers which included Olive Ostrovsky, played by Calista Martin-Singer, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, played by Phoebe Brown ’20, Leaf Coneybear, played by Hunter Kloss ’21, William Barfée, played by Annon Ball ’19, Chip Tolentino, played by Anna Balich ’22,and Marcy Park, played by Sami Silk ’21. Each of the spellers were called up to be given their word and had a flashback to a moment leading up to the Bee which gave the audience insight into the character’s story and a glimpse of each student’s talent. We also get introduced to their unique methods for getting the spelling of the words such as Barfée’s “magic foot” that writes out the words for him. By the end of the act Chip Tolentino had been eliminated for incorrectly spelling the word tittup. The remaining five spellers and the audience got a quick snack break before heading into act two.
Before the lights came back up the audience saw Chip walking through the audience handing out snacks, his punishment for being the first one eliminated in the Bee. After singing about why he lost, Chip gets in a fight with Barfée that almost ended in death by Peanut M&M’s. Luckily, Olive comes in to take the peanuts away which begins her friendship with Barfée.
In act two we get more background about each of the remaining spellers. In this round of spelling and background, the audience gets introduced to the hardships these kids face and the pressures that they face. Logainne sings about her two overbearing fathers in “Woe is Me”. Afterward, she correctly spells her word and moves on. We see the Bee progress quickly through many rounds before Leaf is disqualified on the word “chinchilla” but he walks off proud of himself that he made it this far. Marcy explains her accomplishments and the effect they’ve had on her in “I Speak Six Languages” and is then given the word “camouflage” to spell to which she exclaims “Dear Jesus, can’t you come up with a harder word than that?” and much to her surprise, Jesus himself appears to tell her that she has a choice on whether or not she wins the Bee. Excited by her newfound freedom of choice, she intentionally misspells her word and exits the Bee.
When it’s Olive’s turn again her father calls her, someone she hoped would be there but he was running late, and Panch and Rona go back and forth about if she should be able to answer it. Ultimately, Rona answers it for her and speaks with her father. After the call ends Olive is given her word and it causes her to think about her parents and how they weren’t there in a soulful performance of “The I Love You Song”. Barfée is called up next and despite Logainne’s fathers spilling soda on the floor and his magic foot no longer working, he is able to spell the word without it which gives him great confidence. Logainne gets eliminated on “vug”, and it’s down to the final two. After a whirlwind of back and forth between Olive and Barfée, Olive messes up a word and Barfée has to spell his word correctly in order for him to be the winner. After some debate about coming in first or second, Olive encourages him to not misspell it intentionally and he wins the Bee. After the awards ceremony, each character tells the audience where they ended up after the Bee and the curtain falls.