The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Music and Lyrics by William Finn

Book by Rachel Sheinkin

Choreography by Connor Gallagher

Directed by Jessica Stone


Bucks County Playhouse

Not having seen “Putnam County” since 2005, I was impressed all over again by its craftsmanship. It was a stroke of something like genius to put the jokes into Rachel Sheinkin’s book and let William Finn’s songs do the emotional heavy lifting, especially since “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is far more serious than it looks at first glance. The real subject of the show, after all, is what can happen to children whose self-absorbed parents are obsessed with following their own bliss, and it’s no joke when the spellers admit to having learned far too young that “life is random and unfair / That’s the reason we despair / Life is pandemonium.”

Ms. Stone and Connor Gallagher, the choreographer, take care never to let the bittersweetness swamp the comedy, and their handling of the audience-participation angle (four members of the audience are chosen to take part in the opening round of the spelling bee) is flawless. The balance between the singing and the five-piece offstage pit band is a bit dicey, but I can’t think of anything else wrong with this production. “Company,” it seems, was no fluke: the Bucks County Playhouse is now a troupe to be watched.
— Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal