Spelling Bee Thursday: An Introduction

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The original Broadway cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2005.

We are in the second week of our Spelling Bee Thursday blog series highlighting all-things The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

This week, we are breaking things down a bit and offering a look at what exactly the show is about, a little history and more.

Here we go:

Synopsis

From William Finn, the composer of Falsettos, A New Brain and Little Miss Sunshine, comes a Tony Award-winning look at the all-too-familiar world of adolescence, told with hilarity, catchy tunes and surprising poignancy.

The gloves are off in the take-no-prisoners, cold-blooded, dog-eat-dog world of competitive spelling as a menagerie of pre-pubescent misfits vies to d-e-c-i-m-a-t-e their young rivals on the cutthroat path to the national spelling bee championship.

Hormones rage and pulses pound as our awkward adversaries engage in feats of o-r-t-h-o-g-r-a-p-h-i-c prowess. The winner will receive a shining trophy and a luxurious DC hotel room with a big screen TV. The loser – nothing but a broken heart, a pat on the back and a juice box.

History

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, first conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music/lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin, began development at the Barrington Stage Company of Pittsfield, Mass. in two different stages, according to the Musical Theatre International website.

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Patrick Halley as William Morris Barfee in The Rep’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

After developing into full-scale musical, Spelling Bee then moved Off-Broadway to the Second Stage Theatre under the direction of James Lapine. Opening for previews on Jan. 11, 2005, and officially on Feb. 7, 2005, Spelling Bee received great reviews, sold out its limited engagement, broke box office records at Second Stage and extended its run. The musical concluded its short but successful Off-Broadway stint on March 20, 2005.

One month later, on April 15, 2005, Spelling Bee transferred to Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre, again receiving outstanding critical and box-office achievement. The show closed on January 20, 2008 after 1,136 performances and has since lived on with major success in two national tours, numerous international productions and numerous regional productions at theatres across the country.

Awards

This laugh-out-loud musical comedy has won numerous major awards since taking Broadway by storm, including:

  • Drama Desk Awards for Book of a Musical (Rachel Sheinkin), Director of a Musical (James Lapine) and Ensemble Performance
  • Outer Critics Circle Award for Featured Actor in a Musical (Dan Fogler)
  • Tony Awards for Book of a Musical (Rachel Sheinkin) and Featured Actor in a Musical (Dan Fogler)

Learn more about the fun (and youthful) costumes in our From Script to Stage video series here!

Don’t miss the highly acclaimed musical when it takes center stage Oct. 16-Nov. 8– book your tickets by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visit TheRep.org.

Whipping Man Wednesday: An Introduction

With The Whipping Man about to take the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, starting Jan. 23, we are penning a new short series called “Whipping Man Wednesday” every Wednesday throughout its run.

To start our series– with the help of our dramaturg, Robert Neblett– we will take a look back at the history, synopsis and rundown of this widely produced play written by playwright Matthew Lopez.

Matthew Lopez

Matthew Lopez

History

Lopez says that The Whipping Man began as a 20-minute one-act play called “The Soldier and the Slave” many years ago. Once it developed into a full-length drama, it received its world premiere at Luna Stage in Montclair, NJ, in 2006. Since then, it has had major productions around the country, including an acclaimed West Coast premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2010 and an Off-Broadway production at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2011 starring André Braugher.

The play won the 2011 John Gassner New Play Award from the NY Outer Critics Circle, as well as several 2011 Lucille Lortel Awards and nominations and a 2011 Obie Award for Braugher’s performance.

Check out this video interview with Lopez about the show on Onstage here.

Michael A. Shepperd as Simon. Photo by John David Pittman.

Michael A. Shepperd as Simon. Photo by John David Pittman.

Characters

Caleb DeLeon (played by Ryan Barry*): 20s, the only son of the DeLeon family of Richmond, Virginia

Simon (played by Michael A. Shepperd*): 50s, former slave in the DeLeon home

John (played by Damian Thompson): 20s, former slave in the DeLeon home

Synopsis

On Passover, 1865, the Civil War has just ended and the annual celebration of freedom from bondage is being observed in Jewish homes across the country. One of these homes sits in ruins. As Jewish confederate officer Caleb DeLeon returns from the war, badly wounded, to find his family missing and only two former slaves remaining, Simon and John, the two men are forced to care for him.

As Caleb, Simon and John wait for the family’s return, they wrestle with their shared past as master and slave, digging up long-buried family secrets as well as new ones. With Passover upon them, the three men unite to celebrate the holiday, even as they struggle to comprehend their new relationships at a crossroads of personal and national history and to come to terms with the sordid legacies of slavery and war that threaten each of their future freedoms.

Pulled from Elf study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Get your tickets now for this thought-provoking drama. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.