By Ernio Hernandez
20 Mar 2005
The Off-Broadway musical began performances at Second Stage Theatre Jan. 11 and opened Feb. 7 to positive critical and audience response. The run, which extended upon completely selling out in five days, will next transfer to Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre. It opens May 2, in time to vie for this year's Tony Awards.
David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo, Barrington Stage Company and Second Stage Theater will present the work set to begin previews April 15.
Producer Stone told Variety that the auditorium-like space lends itself to the production, moreso than a traditional proscenium. The quick leap to Broadway also allows for the entire cast to make the hike one subway stop uptown with the show. Stone previously stated the move would cost an estimated $3.5 million.
Tony Award-winning Falsettos collaborators — composer William Finn and director James Lapine — reteam on the work with newcomer librettist Rachel Sheinkin (Striking 12) on a concept by Rebecca Feldman.
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. Among the pre-pubescent brainiacs are multi-lingual national finalist Marcy Park, Putnam Basin district second runner up Leaf Coneybear, Magna Magnet for the gifted and unusual representative Logainne Schwarzandgrubeniere, last year's finalist (eliminated for health reasons) William Barfee, newcomer Olive Ostrovsky and last year's county champion Chip Tolentino.
Also on hand at the showdown are comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney, longtime local Bee hostess (and former champ) Rona Lisa Peretti and Lake Hemingway-Dos Passos Junior High Vice Principal Douglas Panch.
Based on an original play C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E by The Farm, the musical made its world premiere production — under the direction of Michael Unger and Rebecca Feldman — at Sheffield, Massachusetts' Barrington Stage Company in July 2004.
The cast of Spelling Bee includes the original Barrington cast that featured Jesse Tyler Ferguson (On the Town), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Summer of 42, The Light in the Piazza), Derrick Baskin (Memphis), Deborah S. Craig (WaVe, The Karaoke Show), Lisa Howard (Les Misérables national tour) and original C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E castmates Dan Fogler (Joe Fearless), Jay Reiss and Sarah Saltzberg (The Donkey Show) as well as Flower Drum Song star Jose Llana.
Featuring music and lyrics by Finn with a book by Sheinkin (Striking 12) from a concept by Feldman, the musical features choreography by Dan Knechtges. Vadim Feichtner handles musical direction and orchestrations are by Michael Starobin. The design team includes Beowulf Boritt (scenic), Jennifer Caprio (costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), Dan Moses Schreier (sound) and Marty Kopulsky (hair and wig). The production stage manager is Andrea Testani.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee performs at Second Stage, 307 West 43rd Street (just off 8th Ave.). For more information, visit www.SecondStageTheatre.com.
Tickets to the upcoming Broadway transfer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are currently available to American Express Gold Card members and will go on public sale March 21, the same day the box office opens.