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Chip Tarintino, played by Jacob Harmon, after finding out he spelled his word wrong. Photo by Evan Tichenor.

By Eva King

Arts & Culture Editor

Going into the college’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew it was a musical about a spelling bee, and that was about it. What I ended up experiencing was much more entertaining than that. I’m going to try my best to avoid spoiling anything about the show, since I think this is something you really have to experience for yourself. 

To describe the show as simply as possible; six children, all from different areas, compete in the county spelling bee. They each have their own motivations for wanting to win, which they describe in their individual songs. These children aren’t exactly normal, though, and they all have unique quirks. For example, Leaf Coneybear, played by Zander Laitinen, only manages to spell his words when in a trance-like state. William Barfee, played by Em Instenes, uses his “magic foot” method to spell. 

One of the first things I noticed about this production was the set – a simple school gymnasium with a set of bleachers and a small stage. It managed to be absolutely breathtaking. The bright and bold color choices made it seem like something out of a children’s book, which I think matched perfectly with the general aesthetic of everything. The costuming was also well done and each character had a distinct look that made them stand out and reflected their personality. 

About the performance itself, I was blown away. I laughed pretty much the entire time, because the actors managed to keep their energy high despite all the singing and dancing around they had to do. The music was also amazing. I was shocked by how much the cast sounded like the original Broadway soundtrack. 

This musical originated from an improvisational play performed in 2002 titled “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E”. It was such a success that the creator, Rebecca Feldman, decided to workshop it into a full musical. 

In early 2005, it was just an off-broadway production, being performed in theaters with a small seating capacity. It won multiple Drama Desk Awards and eventually made its way to Broadway that April. 

The play went on to win a total of nine awards and be nominated for many more, including a Tony and a Grammy. I think my favorite song out of the many that were included was “I Speak Six Languages”, the character song for one of the spelling bee contestants, Marcy Park. 

This is a very immersive show as well, since the play’s audience has a role as the audience of the spelling bee. Oftentimes the actors will refer to their parents and point out to someone in the crowd, and that definitely keeps people on their toes. You may even have the option to be a spelling bee contestant yourself – but don’t let that scare you, it’s voluntary. I didn’t join myself, but it looked like a lot of fun. You even get a juice box as a reward for your participation, which sweetens the deal.

Theater Director Jessica Wallenfels described the show in a recent email as “a celebration of the awkwardness of youth and a reminder that connection is always stronger than competition.”

“Despite the challenges of the ice storm and the cyberattack,” Wallenfels wrote, “This group was determined to pull together and pursue our passion. The cast is so dedicated to the show, and each of them has crafted a singular, ridiculous character. They have also embraced the improvisatory nature of the show, which takes a lot of guts.” 

I highly encourage you to go see this show and support the talented people involved with it. 

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” plays at CCC’s Osterman Theatre in the Niemeyer Building through March 10. For more information click HERE



Eva King

Eva King is an editor and writer for The Clackamas Print. In her free time, she plays video games and enjoys theater.

1 Comments

  1. Kelly McCormick on March 6, 2024 at 5:17 pm

    Love you Eva! Wonderful reporting on your part! You have a great sense of style and I will enjoy watching you grow into yourself. Remember this quote when you have trouble writing, “A great story is not what you put into it but more what leave out”



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