Stellar “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Two Muses Theater (review)

Get in the car, get out to Bloomfield, and catch Two Muses production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. Located in its own theater inside the Bloomfield Barnes and Noble, the production is in a word stellar — its the best production you are going to see locally, and it has a strong sense of integrity to the original NYC production. See it now so you will know why its going to win all those local Wilde awards next summer.


Adults play elementary school kids in a local spelling bee, complete with sassy organizer Rona (terrific Diane Hill), Vice Principle (hilarious Alan Madlane) and “comfort counselor” (outrageous John DeMerell). There’s nothing subtle here — and that goes for the “kids” themselves (who occasionally play other adult parents) and you won’t find a more stellar assembly of spelling bee participants than you find here. Representing the boys,  Jason WIlhoite plays an, ahem, energetic Chip Tolentino; Richard Payton is an over-the-top-but-never-off-the-mark oddball Leaf Coneybear; Jared Schneider is a star-in-the-making “magic-footed” William Barfee (“pronounced barf-ay”). The girls are equally matched: Liz Jaffe is simply pitch-perfect superb as Logainne SchwarzandGrubenierre; Stafanie Bainter explodes in pent-up rebellion as Marcy Park; and Halle Bins brings heart and a great voice to Olive Ostrovsky. She also delivers my favorite line at the end of the show.

There is no surprise in knowing that there is some audience participation involved, and at this afternoon’s performance the cast was simply spot-on when a senior citizen participated in the spelling bee and decided it was his moment to hog the spotlight and throw in his own unscripted lines. Richard Payton didn’t miss a beat by tossing out a “Thanks for the stories” comment during his “goodbye” sequence. I haven’t laughed this hard at a single live theater stage moment at a show in years.

But there is more to this show than just a spelling bee — it speaks to the anguish and fears in every kid placed in the spotlight — by choice or by parental meddling. You recognize these stereotyped characters and you laugh with them, not at them — okay, well sometimes you do laugh at them…but there are moments of true heart in the show, and it is what lifts it above the norm. Halle Bins “The I Love You Song” is one of the finest interpretations of that scene that I have seen.

Credit director Barbie Weisserman with fast-paced and clever staging and in bringing out the best of every performer, male and female. Jason Wilhoite has done good work as Musical Director (as well as appearing on stage). Mackenzie Moffat finds the humor in the dance sequences. Bill Mandt has done excellent work designing and building a deceptively simple set that is anything but.

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has become a favorite of theater companies because of its minimal technical requirements, small combo band, and variety of character roles. When done right, it is far far more than a small-theater production — and I can honestly state of the half dozen productions I have seen of this show locally, this is far and away the best. Its tight and fast and every single performer is spot-on. Bravo.

Tickets are available at and the show continues through October 20th.



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