Delightful performances in musical

Tabitha Holowka and Tabitha Holowka

In 2015-2016, more than 11 million students will participate locally and regionally with the hopes of making it to National Spelling Bee. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is representative of many of those students’ stories.

This coming weekend will be the last performances of the University’s theatre and film department production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the Musical.”

Those participating in the show’s bee are a batch of sixth graders. The musical highlights the students’ passions, as well as featuring their home lives that prompted their participation in the bee.

Many of the children are under immense pressure from their parents, or conversely are trying desperately to give their parents a reason to pay attention to them. When we think of awkward years, we often think of adolescence, but truly ages seven to ten were significantly more so – we just have the luxury of not remembering.

The University’s student performances, depicting the children, were indeed delightful. Seeing adults pretend to be children is always fun, and maybe ought to be done more. While to some, it may come across as juvenile, there is an idea of being able to take what you know now, as an adult, and apply it to a past self, as in this case the cast of this musical. The things that break children’s hearts can seem so foreign to us now, but are important to recall.

All this aside, the show is in fact a slice-of-life comedy. The individual cast members each exhibit unique eccentricities played up in a fantastically fun-filled way, as they go from a “winner takes it all” mentality to the reality that winning isn’t everything.

The show is intended to have an element of improvisation, though it seems to come from the handful of audience members randomly chosen to spell alongside the cast. While they make it through a few rounds of spelling, they don’t last long. The rest of the musical is scripted.

While I enjoyed the performances of the cast, there were a few things intrinsic to the musical itself that I found cringeworthy. Intended to be comedic, there were maybe two or three words with their definitions and sentence usage that relied on outdated stereotypes. I chalk this up to two things: one, that it seems indicative of the mid-2000s when the play was originally produced; two, this musical has a general audience version and an adult version, which I think the production may have tried to blend subtly. With the latter, adults love off color jokes, and the adult version was intended to be ironically anti-politically correct. I would leave it up to individuals to decide if the University’s production was successful, but I think it was.

The musical was successful with good performances all around. There are some numbers that are extremely fun with some great dancing and choreography; seriously, the character Barfeé (played by Braeden Tuttle) really delivered in his rendition of “Magic Foot” with high kicks and swiveling hips.

I was frankly impressed overall with this production. If you want some good old fashioned fun and sentiment, this weekend you should check it out.

Their remaining play dates are Oct. 29, 30, 31 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 31 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available in advance at $15 for adults and $5 for students and children, and $20 the day of the performance. To purchase tickets, visit or call the box office at 419-372-8171.