Can you spell “success?”
    That’s the word of the day if you’re planning on attending The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Crown Theatre on Jan. 6.
    The Tony-Award winning musical comedy has been wildly successful, earning critical raves across the country. The production follows six students — all in varying stages of pubescent awkwardness — as they attempt to win the spelling bee, a victory that will earn the winner a trophy and a $200 savings bond, plus a trip to Washington D.C., for the national finals. Along the way, the child spellers (played by adults) learn the true meanings of life lessons such as the importance of self-awareness and that winning, while worth striving for, is not the end all and be all.
    {mosimage}It is also something of an audience participation gig, as four volunteer audience members are pulled onto the stage to “compete” in the spelling bee. Fair warning: The words doled out to the volunteers are nigh on impossible to spell, so be prepared for a little consonant confusion if you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to be chosen as one of the four.
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is based on C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original play by The Farm improv group in New York City. The musical had its world premiere production in July 2004 at Barrington Stage Company in Sheffield, Mass. Under the direction of James Lapine, Putnam County Spelling Bee officially opened off-Broadway on Feb. 7, 2005, at Second Stage Theatre, where it ran from Jan. 11 through March 20, 2005.
    Critics were effusive about the production, with The New York Times’ critic writing, “Can you spell i-r-r-e-s-i-s-t-i-b-l-e? Putnam County Spelling Bee is riotously funny and remarkably ingenious. Gold stars all around.”
    And a critic for the Wall Street Journal called it, “perfect in every possible way — that rarity of rarities, a super-smart musical that is also a bona fide crowd-pleaser. An ingenious blend of simplicity and sophistication, it’s not merely funny, it’s wise.”
    Actor Ryan Goodale, who plays Leaf Coneybear, said that he was a fan of the show long before he became a member of the cast.
    “First of all, it’s hysterically funny,” said Goodale. “I saw it three times on Broadway before I even auditioned for the touring company just because I loved it so much. The other thing is that it’s a William Finn show, which means that it has a serious undertone. Later in the piece, the things that the kids are going through come out and the songs become more heartwarming and poignant. You end up caring for them because what they say — or sing — is so honest.”
    The 25th Annual Putnam County County Spelling Bee will play at the Crown Theatre on Tuesday, Jan. 6, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $25, $30, $35 and $45. For more information, call the Crown at (910) 438-4100, or check it out via Internet at

Contact Tim Wilkins at

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