The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a show centered around just that; children taking part in their local spelling competition. As they either pass through each round or fail and the bell chimes them out, we get to know the characters and find out a little about how they ended up there. The music and lyrics, by William Finn, are laboriously wordy and witty, with clever puns and nicely unusual note choices, that really make you feel like you're seeing something quite different within the genre of musical theatre. As the characters compete, their stories develop and we meet the judges, the parents and even, at one point, Jesus himself.

This version sees the PFA Theatre Company bring this to The Space at Surgeons Hall with a young high school age cast, with the exception of a couple of older cast members. They certainly looked the part as they took their places on stage, although the performance didn't quite meet these initial expectations. 

Vocally the show was disappointing; it's perhaps a harder sing than this company had realised and a light hearted subject matter doesn't necessarily mean it should be performed lightheartedly. There are some big numbers in there, with a demanding note range and a really soulful undertone at times and the voices came up far too short. The older cast members certainly helped to anchor and carry the performance through, although even they at times let it down; one particularly awful gospel riff section was possibly the most awkward vocal moment of the whole show.

The show overall however was enjoyable. The script is funny, there were a good few laughs and lots of what this production lacked in singing ability was made up for with some really promising comedic timing. The cast are likeable and charming and aren't trying too hard to be what they are not. It didn't delight me but neither did it offend me and it's always great to see a young group so enthused by their material. 

Reviews by Hannah Lucy Baker

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The Blurb

See the other side of spelling bees, and the pressures of being a tween obsessed with winning!