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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Second Stage Theatre
307 W. 43rd Street
New York, NY
January 11 – April 1, 2005

Music & Lyrics by William Finn
Concept by Rebecca Feldman
Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Directed by James Lapine
Choreography by Dan Knechtges
Music Direction by Vadim Feichtner


Derrick Baskin, Deborah S. Craig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler, Lisa Howard, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jose Llana, Jay Reiss, Sarah Saltzberg

The Story

In The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, six young people in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. A sold-out smash at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre, and huge hit at Broadway’s Circle in the Square, Spelling Bee has been called “irresistible and entirely lovable” by The New York Times.


Spelling Bee Holds Its Own

Spelling Bee holds its own, laugh for laugh, with any of them. Plenty of credit goes to Mr. Lapine, who keeps some kind of order over all the silliness; it also belongs to the actors who play the grownups. As hostess and past champion Rona Lisa Peretti and troubled vice principal Panch, Lisa Howard and Jay Reiss are not just funny themselves, but the cause of fun in others. As each audience volunteer in turn encounters a carefully tailored putdown, I again found myself wondering: Are they making this up as they go?

Blend of Geniality and Officiousness

They don’t get to sweat the syllables in words like ‘weltanschauung,’ but Lisa Howard and Jay Reiss provide a fair portion of the comic zest in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee… Ms. Howard brings a tart blend of geniality and officiousness to the role of Rona Lisa Peretti, the hostess at the county meet, who has fond memories of her own glory days as a spelling champ.

Implacable Perkiness

Presiding over the competition, with a cheerfulness as sturdy as her shellacked coiffure, is Ms. Rona Lisa Peretti, herself a former champ, played with implacable perkiness by Lisa Howard.

Comic Spontaneity

The stream of new faces heading to the microphone gives the event host, Lisa Howard, plenty of opportunities for comic spontaneity. At least, Ms. Howard’s introductions sounded like improv, as when she said that the favorite TV show of a volunteer with floppy, Scott Baio hair was ‘Joanie Loves Chachie.’

All the Pride

Lisa Howard has all the pride of a former pageant winner.

Perfectly Suited

Also excellent is Lisa Howard as Rona Lisa Peretti, the Bee’s hostess and one-time champion. With a dry wit perfectly suited to the color commentary she provides (and her ad-libs for audience volunteer spellers are often as funny as Sheinkin’s scripted barbs), she also provides a vital, sweet-natured connecting bridge between childhood and adulthood. More than anyone else, she seems best in tune with both the immature anxieties of her young charges and the world-weary rumblings of her adult coworkers.