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 At the 25th Annual

We've memorized the manual

About how to spell these words

Words that require thought

People think we're automatons

But that is exactly what we're not


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a musical about six misfit kids in a spelling bee and the three crazy adults in charge. The music was written by William Finn and the book was written by Rachel Sheiken.

This musical contains examples of

  • Abusive Parents: Implied in "The I Love You Song."
    • Although depending on your interpretation, each speller has these to an extent.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: The musical is based on another play, C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E.
  • Audience Participation: Four audience members are picked to be spellers, and the audience of the play is treated as though it's the audience of the bee.
  • Butt Monkey: Pretty much all of the spellers. Including those from the audience. Especially those from the audience.
  • Character Blog: Both Leaf and Logainne had blogs where they posted videos.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Leaf Coneybear has cats!
  • Counterpoint Duet: "Second"
  • Cut Song: "Why We Like Spelling" shows up on the main soundtrack but generally isn't present in performances.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: Olive's big song, with a Lampshade Hanging that the word she's spelling is defined as "removed from reality".
  • Dark Reprise / Triumphant Reprise: Apart from the first few audience members, one of these comes up nearly every time someone gets eliminated. Leaf's reprise manages to be both, starting out dark and ending triumphant.
  • Dawson Casting: The adult actors play characters who are in elementary or middle school.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Marcy Park.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Every single character has serious issues.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "Second"
  • Final Love Duet: While officially it's not, "Second" has some element of this. Just ask the shippers.
  • Geek Physiques: This can get passed around or eliminated on account of differing actors between productions, but Barfée is frequently overweight.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Quite a few of the spelling words. For example, flagellate and vug. (Try saying them out loud)
  • Gospel Revival Number: "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor"
  • Granola Guy: Leaf
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: A few segments can be improvised, though often there are default lines that performers can fall back on. In particular, Panch is often played by an improvisational comic and is given a fair amount of leniency with how he deals with the spellers from the audience.
  • Has Two Daddies: Logainne
  • Homeschooled Kid: Leaf Coneybear.
  • "I Am" Song: "I'm Not That Smart", "I Speak Six Languages", and "Woe Is Me" for their individual singers; "Why We Like Spelling" for the spellers as a whole.
  • Incredibly Long Note: Logainne finishes "Woe Is Me" with one.
    • Mitch holds one in the middle of "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor."
  • Insufferable Genius: For most of the play, William is rather smug about his spelling technique and gloats over one of the defeated spellers at one point.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": William Barfée (Bar-FAY)
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mitch Mahoney, the comfort counselor. He's an ex-con who at one point expresses a desire to "beat [the spellers] up a little, so they understand that pain has degrees." However, "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor" is probably one of the biggest Crowning Moments Of Heartwarming in the entire show, since it's one of the only times any character treats the Bee as anything other than Serious Business. Oh, and in the Where Are They Now? Epilogue, it turns out that Mitch decided to become a comfort counselor full-time.
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: Pretty much every member of the cast doubles.
    • Especially the actor playing Mitch.
  • Magic Feather: Turns out, Barfée didn't need to use his magic foot after all!
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Leaf and all of his siblings (names may vary by production). They are: Marigold, Brooke, Pinecone, Landscape, Raisin, Paul.
  • Meddling Parents: Logainne's dads; Carl in particular.
  • Minor Character, Major Song: "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor," sung by Mitch.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The show opens with Rona as a kid, winning a previous spelling bee.
  • Missing Mom / Disappeared Dad: For Olive, both of her parents are absent in their own way. Her mother is on a self-discovery trip in India, while her dad is implied to be emotionally distant as a result. (As well as physically absent from the bee.)
  • Mood Whiplash: From "The I Love You Song", Olive's mother breaks the somber, beautiful tone of the piece with the line "if you're feeling gloomy, blame it on me. Blame it on your daddily and mammily, because depression runs in our family", which usually garners a few laughs from the audience.
    • "The I Love You Song" itself is a massive mood whiplash, as the play is almost entirely a raunchy comedy up until this point and there's utterly no warning that the upcoming song is going to be leading to more than a few tears until it finally starts.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Panch interrupts "I'm Not That Smart" to ask Leaf to spell his word.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: Repeatedly for William "Barfy".
  • No Fourth Wall: Along with the audience spellers, the audience treated as if they're attending the spelling bee rather than a play about a spelling bee. The intermission is even a "snack break."
  • Odd Name Out: Leaf's siblings are Marigold, Brook, Pinecone, Landscape, Raisin...and Paul.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Jesus shows up in one scene to impart wisdom to Marcy.
  • Pals with Jesus: Marcy, apparently.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: At least one pretty much always gets thrown at an audience member to spell.
  • Putting on My Thinking Cap: Barfée's "magic foot" that he uses to spell. It gets a whole song.
  • Raging Stiffie: A whole song about one.

 Chip: Because my stiffy has ruined my spelling!