Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Charlee Buzzard 16 October 2014

Go see the ‘Bee’; you won’t regret it.

It’s not often that a late show ends with half the audience on its feet. Yet, ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ (from here on, ‘Spelling Bee’- because who wants to type that out every time?) truly deserves it. This musical comedy is an absolute delight.

‘Spelling Bee’ follows six American schoolchildren in the spelling competition of their lives. They’re presided over by one former contestant (a previous winner) and one ex-offender, who’s there for moral support (and community service).

Perhaps the best, and most unusual, element of the show was the audience participation. Volunteer audience members had been selected to participate in the Spelling Bee- much to the amusement of everyone else. It was impressive to see how deftly the cast handled the volunteers, showing a real skill for improvisation. Indeed, such was the confidence of the cast, and the strength of their character work, that it was difficult to tell what had been scripted and what hadn’t. The audience participation was hilarious, confidently-handled and never once broke the illusion that the Spelling Bee was unfolding before us. The look on one volunteer’s face as he was marched offstage to the sombre tones of a forceful “Goodbye!” was priceless.

Indeed, with the house lights regularly coming on, audience members onstage, cast members out in the aisles, and the use of the forestage, there was a reciprocal warmth between the Spelling Bee and the audience that made for a charming viewing experience.

Whilst the whole cast were superb, a special mention should be made for Tris Hobson as Vice Principal Douglas Panch who had the audience in stitches every time he sauntered on stage, as well as Charlie Houseago as William Barfee, whose energy in his solo number was a joy to watch. Other memorable moments include Will Popplewell’s strangely possessed spelling trance, Constance Chapman’s excellent delivery (“Sthhpeech impediments aren’t funny”), Yasmin Freeman’s beautifully sung, “I speak six languages”, and Lily Lindon’s hysterical turn in a very special star appearance.

It would have been nice to have had a little more volume from some of the female members of the cast- if only to hear their singing more clearly. Moreover, the second half occasionally felt a little slower than the first, perhaps simply because half the cast were offstage. However, with their return for the finale, the show ended with the energy and momentum of its best moments.

The director, and musical director, have done a wonderful job recreating this Tony Award-winning musical on the ADC stage. It is the most consistently hilarious piece of student theatre I’ve ever seen and goes to show what you can do with high quality acting, excellent musical pieces and a witty script.

With pointed jibes worthy of a sketch show, yet all the slickness of a big musical number, I can guarantee that Spelling Bee won’t fail to impress.


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'The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee'  is playing at the ADC Theatre at 11.00 pm until Saturday. Get your tickets online at