Attending “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Harper Joy

Ben Kearney, Campus Life Reporter

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to name and credit some of the students involved in creating this production. 

Whitman students finished up a four-show run of the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” on April 24, directed by first-year Kellen Flynn. The entire production, including choreography, music, costumes, was run by Whitman students and brought the William Finn musical back to Whitman audiences after a previous run in 2011. The night was full of laughter, music and fun for the audience and cast alike.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” centers on six quirky adolescents competing in the Bee, overseen by three equally quirky grown-ups. The show featured Matthew Triplett, Ellie Cain, Stella Coomes, Carmel Stephan, Joshua Cox, John Thompson, Micho Matuszewski, Sienna Axe, David Kretz, stage manager Alyx Kruger, assistant stage manager Ian Smith and costume designer Chloe Williams.

The show’s music director was junior Gillian Mackay Brown, and was  choreographed by first-year Nina Horn. “The Bee” featured a live student orchestra consisting of Annika Cahill, Nadia Lindert, Faith Chung, Amelia Husted, Victoria Frost and Oriana Golden.

A unique addition that separates “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” from most musicals is the audience involvement. Guests seeing the show could sign up to spell alongside the contestants during the first act of the show, allowing for improvised descriptions of the contestants and some hilarious moments from guests trying to spell the words given to them.

As a first-year at Whitman, “The 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee” is the first musical I’ve seen here. Needless to say, I was very impressed by the talent and dedication of everyone involved. I was not familiar with the plot of the show, though I knew of its existence. My favorite song has to be the show opener, a perfect way to get to know the characters and who you will or will not be rooting for in the Bee.

A funny moment in the show that constantly repeats is when students fail to spell their word correctly. The cast sings “Goodbye” over and over again, the tone changing for some in particular. Each character got a juice box as a reward for participating, as did the audience members who joined in as well.

The cast of the 2022 production kept the full house of theatergoers laughing and cheering during the show, as they spelled their words correctly and the humor inserted into the script kept the howls of laughter going. The singing paired with incredible choreography kept audience members entertained and on their toes as the characters went through the wringer to get their words spelled correctly amidst the troubles of their home life. Snacks were even given out to audience members during the act two opener, though no food and drinks were allowed during the show due to COVID-19 procedures.

Overall, the recent run of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was a joyous and entertaining performance to watch, and a triumph of student leadership.