Quote of the Day: Sometimes, what we really need is a good belly laugh. Tyler Michaels King, director of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistry in Bloomington, MN. 

And, a good belly laugh it was! My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (now, referred to as the Spelling Bee musical) at Artistry. Originally produced on Broadway in 2005, the creators turned a stressful moment in young peoples’ lives into an entertaining, heartfelt musical. The musical was conceived by Rebecca Feldman, Music & Lyrics by William Finn, Book by Rachel Sheinkin, and additional materials by Jay Reiss. It is a very clever musical with delightful characters, snappy music and dancing, and heartfelt stories of the young people who participate in an annual spelling bee.

Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistry, thru 10/29/23. Photo: Dan Norman

The musical opens with spelling bee moderator Rona Lisa Peretti (Stephanie Cousins) remembering her win as spelling champion several years ago. Cousins has a gorgeous voice and stage presence. The contestants begin to arrive, and we’re introduced to them through their very distinct characters, and throughout the musical as they each get a solo moment. The show also has audience participation, which I believe you can sign up for ahead of time, where they come up on stage as additional contestants. Sometimes, they got really easy words like COW, and other times, something very obscure, so that they’d get eliminated and excused to go sit back in the audience. That was a fun element, and they all played their parts well, with a little side coaching from the usher, the other contestants and actors. 

Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistry, thru 10/29/23. Photo: Dan Norman

Tod Petersen plays Douglas Panch, the principal recruited to read the words and give the meanings. He plays the part well, with great line delivery and interaction, especially with the audience contestants. Wariboko Sementari plays Mitch Mahoney who manages the room and contestants, handing them a juice box and escorting them off as they are eliminated from the competition. He also steps in to play a few side roles, and is a fabulous dancer. 

Stephanie Cousins as Rona Lisa Peretti, Brendan Nelson Finn as William Barfee, and Tod Petersen as Douglas Panch in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistry, thru 10/29/23. Photo: Dan Norman

Wesley Mouri plays Chip Tolentino, who spells pretty well, but gets distracted. He has probably the funniest song of the musical. Brendan Nelson Finn plays William Barfee (that’s bar-fey, not barfy, even though Mr. Panch gets it wrong every time) who is hilariously awkward, but has a magic foot that helps him spell. Tom Reed play Leaf Coneybear who makes his way to the competition as somewhat of a third-string speller. He lacks confidence, but seems to have moments of enlightenment when it really counts. Emma Schuld plays Marcy Park, a very serious speller, who insists that she isn’t always so regimented. Gabrielle Dominque plays Logainne, a girl with two doting dads, and she just wants to please them and win the competition. Jillian Sjoquist plays Olive Ostrovsky who hopes to get a little attention from her overly busy parents, but finds strength within herself to persevere. These are all absolutely delightful characters brought to life by a tremendously talented group of people. I can’t imagine a better cast to tell this story. All of them get a chance to shine in their solos, which were fantastic!

Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistry, thru 10/29/23. Photo: Dan Norman

The band is located on a stage within a stage for this production, led by Raymond Berg. Kate Mariana Brown is on keyboard, Bill Olson on reeds, Matthew Dosland on cello, and Anna Jennings on drums/percussion. They were marvelous, and it was fun to see them on stage. The set, designed by Sarah Bahr, is an old school gymnasium with a stage and encouraging posters on the walls, and movable bleachers. Costume, hair and make-up by Samantha Fromm Haddow was terrific, making each contestant unique. Lighting design by Alice Endo, helping us focus on the action and spotlighting the contestants as they spelled and told their stories through their songs. Sound design by Born Into Royalty, and Technical Direction by Will Rafferty.

The Spelling Bee play is good fun with plenty of heart. I recommend it to anyone who loves good music, singing, dancing, laughing, and spelling! You can see it through October 29, 2023 at Artistry in Bloomington, MN. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you have a good sense of spell? Have you won any spelling bees?