(L to R) Angel Lin; Lila Coogan; Jordan Matthew Brown; Sumi Yu; & Sammy Pignalosa in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Yes, there’s a bee on the loose at New Brunswick’s George Street Playhouse. Not to worry; it won’t sting you. But it will get you laughing out loud, a lot. The wonderfully funny musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is a show guaranteed to give you a ton of laughs. It is a well produced production that features a fabulous cast and even a few extras from the audience.
The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee opened on Broadway in 2005 and ran for nearly three years. Along the way, it picked up a number of prestigious awards including a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. It continues to be a popular show seen around the country in theaters and school productions. This production at George Street has to be one of the best to be seen as the Playhouse goes all out for this show.
Cover of the official program of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at George Street Playhouse. Photo by K. Nowosad
The large stage in the Arthur Laurents Theater is set up to be a school gymnasium complete with those less than comfortable bleachers and few table to hold materials needed to run the Spelling Bee. Directed by Colin Hanlon, with a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss, the play delves into the world of young adult competition in one of the most popular nonathletic events – a spelling bee.
(L to R) Sumi Yu; Sammy Pignalosa; Jordan Matthew Brown; Angel Lin; Coleman Cummings; & Lila Coogan in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
The show features music and lyrics by Tony Award winner William Finn. Mat Eisenstein provides Musical Direction of songs designed to tell the audience more about the characters in the Bee. Nancy Renee Braun’s design for the choreography adds a lot of interest to the songs and in some of them, it becomes a little chaotic like in the song “Pandemonium.” It does fit because for those involved in a spelling bee, their lives are focused on remembering many words and trying to outlast and in some cases outwit their fellow competitors.
Many Funny Lines
Introductions to the students are given by adult Rona Lisa Perretti (Ally Bonino). Shown here in the photo, she occupies the main control desk with Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Kitty Reidy) who gives the words, definitions, and uses in sentences. There are so many funny ones that come out. If it isn’t in the definition, then count on it being in the sentence.
(L to R) Kilty Reidy & Ally Bonino in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Sometimes referred to as six middle school “misfits” in Putnam County, these students bring a charm all their own as they bravely attempt to win the top prize. Background stories come out about each student with expectations of how they can do. Shown here is Sammy Pignalosa playing the role of Leaf Coneybear. Although he does not win, he does come to realize that there is more to himself than he thought.
Sammy Pignalosa in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Coleman Cummings plays contestant Chip Tolentino. In an attempt to stick around after elimination, he poses as a food vendor. Chip moves through the audience tossing wrapped candies. And the audience eats it up!
Coleman Cummings in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Aaron Michael Ray plays a “comfort counselor” who helps get people out of the Bee area when they don’t want to leave. He also gives a soothing box of juice to help ease the transition. He's shown below with contestant Marcy Park played by Sumi Yu.
(L to R) Sumi Yu & Aaron Michael Ray in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
The other student contestants are Jordan Matthew Brown as William Barfee, Lila Coogan as Olive Ostrovsky, and Angel Lin plays Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere.
The show plays through April 9, 2023. For tickets and more information, go to the George Street Playhouse website.
See this show and have a great time doing it. There are plenty of laughs and good natured materials and songs. You can’t miss!