"Goodbye": Spelling Bee Closes on Broadway Jan. 20

By Ernio Hernandez
20 Jan 2008

Jenni Barber in Spelling Bee.
Jenni Barber in Spelling Bee.
Photo by Joan Marcus

The competition comes to an end when The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee — the award-winning William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin musical based on a Rebecca Feldman work — plays its final performance on Broadway Jan. 20.

James Lapine (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) directed the show, which opened on Broadway May 2, 2005, at the Circle in the Square Theatre following previews from April 15. The show closes having played 21 previews and 1,136 regular performances.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee pits ten contestants (six actors, four audience members) against each other in a battle for the championship of the local spelling competition.

Spelling Bee was based on C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original play created by Rebecca Feldman and the comedy troupe The Farm. Composer-lyricist William Finn provided the score for the musical incarnation with a book by librettist Rachel Sheinkin. Dan Knechtges choreographed.



The design team included Beowulf Boritt (set), Jennifer Caprio (costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound). Orchestrations were by Michael Starobin. Vadim Feichtner served as music director and provided dance arrangements. Vocal arrangements were by Carmel Dean. Michael Keller was music coordinator.

The musical 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 a nomination for the top prize of Best Musical. Fogler and book writer Sheinkin took home awards for their work. The original Broadway cast recording is available on Ghostlight Records.

The production recouped its initial investment of $3.5 million 18 weeks after opening on Broadway. Unaffected by the recent stagehands strike (because of a separate contract with Local One), the show saw a bump in attendance as one of the few shows that remained open during that 19-day period. No show has yet been announced for the soon-to-be-vacant The Circle in the Square Theatre.

As of Sept. 23, 2007, Spelling Bee had welcomed 4,000 guest spellers onstage to test their word knowledge. Among the more famous to have participated in recent shows include Broadway stars Julie Andrews, Lea Salonga, Raul Esparza and Brian Stokes Mitchell as well as Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, National Spelling Bee Champ Kelly Close, Bay Street Theatre co-founder (and Andrews' daughter) Emma Walton Hamilton and (at the 2005 Tony Awards) Al Sharpton.

The work has toured to San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles (with the original cast) and is currently on the second leg of its national tour.

The current Broadway cast features Jennifer Simard, Aaron J. Albano, Stanley Bahorek, Jenni Barber, Jared Gertner, James Monroe Iglehart, Sara Inbar, Greta Lee and Daniel Pearce. Angelica-Lee Aspiras, Brian Gonzales, Maurice Murphy, Jacqui Polk serve as understudies.

For more information on the musical, visit spellingbeethemusical.com.