Talent, guts and heart propel the winning production of The Honest Collective’s winning comedy musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Caroline Russell-King reviews the current production from The Honest Collective — the musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Show: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Playwright/composer: Music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin, conceived by Rebecca Feldman with additional material by Jay Reiss.

Production company/theatre space: The Honest Collective with Pink + White Creative at the Rhyme & Reason Early Learning at the Northland Mall.

Length: One act (one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission).

Genre(s): Musical comedy.

Premise: A collection of loveable, misfit children compete for the spelling-bee prize and we see stories of their home lives in funny and poignant flashbacks. 

Why this play? Why now?: From the AD notes: “It’s a story built on passion and filled with heart.” In a city that sometimes produces more theme-laden and educational shows, this IS entertainment.

Curiosities: I wondered why there were blank pages in the program and the cast and crew’s bios were written in four-point font … I wondered how many people would have problems with access to the mall for after hours — none I hope. What will be show #3?

Notable moment: My Unfortunate Erection/Distraction (Chip’s Lament) still my favourite number for audacious, teenage cringe-worthy humour.

Notable writing: Nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two, including best book and the 2005 Drama Desk Award with productions and tours worldwide. 

Notable performances: I’ve seen this show done by professionals with older adults and amateurs with big budgets, but this is my favourite so far — a cast with talent, guts and heart. 

Notable design/production: Catherine Handford as costume designer (who also worked so hard on Bare, the inaugural production of the Honest Collective) brings integrity to the world of the play.

Notable direction: Kris Mish, who has been mentored well by JP Thibodeau, has picked up his talent for combining direction with lighting design. Gianna Read-Skelton (also with StoryBook Theatre crossover experience having just done musical direction for Matilda) has worked that cast hard. Kudos also to choreographer Liberty Schultz. I hope they got on well and go on to collaborate on more projects.

One reason to see this show: It’s a W-I-N-N-E-R.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs until March 7 at the Northland Mall.

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here at