Running since: May, 2005 A quirky and playful new musical from the author of Falsettos and director James Lapine about... a spelling bee.
The Broadway production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee closed February January 20, 2008. For current Broadway show listings and tickets, please click here.
Imagine your school spelling bee, if all the contestants had the wit and whimsy enough to express their feelings through spontaneous acts of musical theatre. If you like the idea, you'll doubtlessly enjoy this exquisitely rendered effort from William Finn and James Lapine. Housed in the cinderblock gymnicafertorium that is Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre, the production makes every effort to conjure up the feeling of a school assembly, at which the painfully awkward adolescents suffer through the terrors and bliss of growing up.
There's a minor audience-participation element to the evening, as a few members of the audience join the cast onstage as 'contestants' at the beginning - no worries, if you don't want to, you won't have to. The staff quietly canvasses the lobby before the show to solicit participants - your odds are best if you're with a large group, look relatively sober, and are not an actor. (Our editor didn't stand a chance.)
Mature themes (there's a tumescence song).
Recommended for 10 and over. Children under the age of 5 are not permitted in the theatre.
Here's a clip from the show's performance on the Tony Awards - you may have to click the arrow twice to play:
2005 Tony Awards: Best Book, Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Fogler).
2005 Drama Desk Awards: 2, including Best Director of a Musical.
2005 Outer Critics Circle Award :Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Fogler)
Sophisticated in its integration of words and music, yet appealing in effect, "Spelling Bee" is thoroughly enjoyable, from A to Z.
...better than ever, more heartfelt and overflowing with a generosity of spirit that tempers a tale in which the result has to be bittersweet....
"Spelling Bee" is warm, enjoyable and very funny. It also has limited scope, and after about an hour - it runs 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission - it becomes a little repetitious.
New York Daily News
There is nothing compelling about "Spelling Bee" because everything in it is forced, including most of the performances. I don't blame the actors - they're simply fulfilling the material.
New York Post
Perhaps it should have stayed (Off-Broadway). Its intimacy and sly humors might well flourish more readily in an off-Broadway ambiance, but, like Queen Victoria, I was not amused. I was not even entertained.
New York Times
The happy news for this happy-making little show is that the move to larger quarters has dissipated none of its quirky charm.
Finn's music is less ambitious than his major work, but simple is never confused with simple-minded. With a small combo in the wings, the smartly innocent lyrics celebrate and mutilate a tiny world....
The Journal News
...bluntly affirmative, uniformly comical but nicely melodic songs...
....Bee is genuinely funny more often than it isn't, and the performances... couldn't be better.
October 1, 2007
The cast has perfect chemistry, making for one of the hardest times I have ever laughed. I would recommend this show to anyone!
September 20, 2007
A different Broadway experience. The theater is intimate, especially when you're in the front row, as we were. We enjoyed it immensely. It's very, very funny, but if you're looking for a high-energy, precisely choreographed musical, this isn't it.
August 19, 2007
We were not at all impressed by the show. For an On-Broadway show, the cast was sub-par. The humor was thin and the storyline weak. As consistent theatre-goers we are simply looking for good entertainment. We do not need to attend shows that have a political agenda. Despite one's political position, we don't find it an appropriate venue to be lectured to about a writer or director's viewpoint that have nothing to do with the show. I would not recomend this show to anyone, it is a waste of time and money. There are much better shows to attend.