The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee at Drury Lane Theatre


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The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee

Book by: Rachel Sheinkin
Music & Lyrics by: William Finn
Conceived by: Rebecca Feldman
Additional Material by: Jay Reiss

Musical Direction by: Ben Johnson
Direction and Musical Staging by: Scott Calcagno

Political Correctness turned Up Side Down

On the surface “The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee” appears to be a simple situation with a familiar setting, amusing songs, and many laughs; but before the intermission, you realize much more evolves. This show is about the challenges of adolescence interwoven with the personality of each character. All are academic over achievers with six different personalities. “…The Bee” shows heartfelt back stories of these main characters, eventually leading to their personal triumphs and their center stage songs.

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The Bee also blends the element of improvisaton by using four randomly chosen audience members, whose varied competitive styles add richness and complexity. It is a delightful, entertaining show about adolescence, but “clearly not a children’s show”.
The original Bee started Off-Broadway and later ran for three years on Broadway. It won two Tony Awards in 2005 of six nominations; one for Best Musical and the other for Best Book of a Musical. About seven years ago I saw The Bee for the first time and found it o.k., but not a great evening. I admit, it may have just been my mood for that particular evening or was it that production???? This Drury Lane’s superb updated Bee uses staging surprises which can knock your socks off, but even more entertaining is the updated dialogue, current topics and local references which get the audience howling in laughter. This 2014 blend of emotional variety and silly fun seems like a whole new show.

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The acting by full grown adults, who so convincingly have you believe you are watching adolescents, seems key to the power of this show. Frances Limoncelli beautifully plays Rona Peretti the motherly moderator. When she sings, she only makes you yearn for more songs from her, as well as more from the outstanding other cast members. Only one or two members either in dialogue or song could have enunciated just a little more clearly. The music helps expand and especially balance the tense competitive scenes of The Bee and the personal stories.
In its humor, The Bee deliciously turns political correctness upside down, and pokes fun at many, but confines itself to mostly minorities. Just as Peretti, the Moderator, adds a critical balance to the mayhem of the young students, the play might be enhanced by poking fun at the traditional values or topics of the majority in society.

The variety of “The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee” offers something for everyone to relate to, as well as a very funny, poignant and entertaining evening. Wordsmiths among us surely will enjoy just the sound of the words; the humor in the definitions; and the personality of each of the contestants when responding to their spelling challenges. All should certainly relate to at least one of the joys, sorrows or embarrassing moments of those memorable teen years! Try The Bee and enjoy!


Margaret Eva
Reviewed: June 26, 2014

Performances at:
Drury Lane Theatre
100 Drury Lane
Oakbrook, Illinois

Performances: June 26, 2014 thru August 17, 2014
Tickets: $40-$50; Seniors $35; and Lower group rates, especially for Students and Seniors.

For reservations, call the Drury Lane Theatre box office at 630.530.0111;
Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000; or

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