The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Spells Success by Recouping Investment

News   The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Spells Success by Recouping Investment The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has recouped its initial investment of $3.5 million 18 weeks after opening on Broadway, the producers announced Sept. 12.

The new William Finn, Rachel Sheinkin and Rebecca Feldman musical began previews April 15 at the Circle in the Square Theatre and opened May 2 and reached its captialization by Sept. 4.

Spelling Bee becomes the first musical of the 2004-2005 season to make back its money. The recoup marks a second hit musical for producer David Stone — whose Wicked, which neighbors Spelling Bee at the Gershwin Theatre, also recouped in December 2004. With Julia Roberts lined up to star in his next project, Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain, Stone likely has another hit in his sights. When asked if he thought he'd have trouble selling tickets, Stone humbly replied, "I hope not."

Eighteen weeks is a quicker turnaround than his previous hit, the $14 million Wicked, but comparable by scale according to Stone. "If you look at things on the same scale, I think Rent and Chicago were a tiny bit faster although they were much larger theatres," Stone told Playbill.com. " And Avenue Q and Urinetown took a little longer — all those shows were I think 3 and a half [million]. Wicked and Hairspray and Producers and I'm sure Spamalot are all in the 10 or more months [range]."

The musical has been among the most-attended on Broadway in recent weeks, and shows no signs of stopping. The advance is $3 million, Stone said.

* James Lapine (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) directs the spellbinding showdown with the same cast from its earlier Second Stage Off Broadway run.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee pits 10 contestants (six actors, four audience members) against each other in a battle for the championship of the local spelling competition. The cast includes Deborah S. Craig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sarah Saltzberg, Dan Fogler, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jose Llana, Derrick Baskin, Lisa Howard and Jay Reiss.

David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo, Barrington Stage Company and Second Stage Theater present the work on Broadway by composer William Finn (Falsettos), librettist Rachel Sheinkin (Striking 12) on a concept by Rebecca Feldman. Fogler, Saltzberg and Reiss were part of the original ensemble of C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, the play on which the musical is based.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee earned six Tony Award nominations including Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction, Best Featured Actor (Dan Fogler) and Featured Actress (Celia Keenan-Bolger) as well as for the top prize of Best Musical. Fogler and book writer Sheinkin took home awards for their work.

For more information, visit www.spellingbeethemusical.com.

A scene from <i>The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee</i>.
A scene from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by Joan Marcus