bannerreviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs. K and I kicked off our big theatre weekend with Actors Theatre of Indiana’s opening night presentation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The original 2005 Broadway production was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two – including Best Book. It’s a very successful musical – with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin – which has spread to theatres all over the USA and indeed around the world.

Director Michael Blatt has found an uber-skilled cast of players for his staging and, with the help of musical director Brent E. Marty and choreographer Carol Worcel, his efforts provide a sparkling program of wonderful musical and comic performances. While the show’s thin premise of a middle-school spelling bee is stretched to the max, the resulting array of characters and many hilarious one-lined jokes, make the show highly entertaining, and full of pleasant surprises. Clever arrangements of songs abound, as well.


The cast of spellers in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”: clockwise from front left, Arianne Villareal as Marcy, Emily Crowley as Olive, Brett Mutter as Barfée, Adee David as Logainne, Keith Potts as Chip, and Danny Kingston as Leaf.

The show’s cast, led by ATI newcomers Brett Mutter as word-nerd supreme William Morris Barfée and Emily Crowley as his rival/new friend Olive Ostrovsky, is a treasury of talent. Mutter’s fine turn as the rather touchy (and mono-nostriled) Barfée is an undeniable highlight of the show. His spot-on characterization, full of many little details and nuances, is further augmented by his wonderful singing talent. Ms. Crowley is perfect as the diminutive Olive, also making the most of her impressive musical abilities. Her rendition in “The I Love You Song” (along with wayward “parents” Judy Fitzgerald and Johnnie Taylor) is one of the most beautiful numbers in the song-filled show.

Keith Potts illuminates Chip Tolentino, the pubescent reigning spelling champ, with a witty performance, including the unique “Chip’s Lament”; Adee David brings the desperately libbed-out Logainne Swartzandgrubenierre to life with an energetic accounting; Danny Kingston is marvelously vulnerable as the challenged youth, Leaf Coneybear; and Arianne Villereal is perfect as the exceptional Marcy Park, who is especially winning in her matter of fact rendition of “I Speak Six Languages”.


Brett Mutter stars as William Morris Barfée in ATI’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”.

Judy Fitzgerald, Doug Trapp, and Johnnie Taylor add plenty of additional texture with strong offerings as past champion Rona Lisa Peretti, spelling bee moderator Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney, respectively. Four additional spelling bee “cast members” are selected from the audience pre-show and opening night was graced with a more-than-able grouping for this assignment.

Technically, P. Bernard Killian’s “gymnatorium” set design is perfectly rendered. The four piece orchestra, led by Mr. Marty, provides a flawless accompaniment to the proceedings. Costumes by Donna Jacobi add much to the characterizations.

Bottomline: This lively show has all the ingredients: great songs, some very funny lines and bits, a few surprises, and a great cast (creating a memorable set of characters) which is supported by the wonderful talents of director Blatt, choreographer Ms. Worcel, and musical director Marty. And I have a feeling that my friend Kevin Casey’s contribution as Production Stage Manager has a lot to do with the great precision of the show.  I recommend you go see this one – you’ll spend a happy two hours at the bee.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 18th. You can find complete information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto .

  • – photos by Jason Gaskins