Sondheim Meets Saturday Morning Cartoons in ‘Putnam County’

Of Director Kristin Wolanin’s myriad strengths, enthusiasm containment doesn’t rank toward the top.

“We’ve never done anything like this before, where the show is literally different every time, so the people who come to the Thursday night performance can come to the Friday night performance and come away with two unique experiences.

“It’s just such a fun show to do!” Wolanin said.

The curtain rises on the spring musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door.

“Putnam County” tells the story of six Middle Schoolers negotiating the minefield of adolescence and home-life baggage while keeping their eyes on the spelling bee prize. Running the bee are two adults whose shared history doesn’t stay in the past and one who hands out juice boxes to losing spellers in his role as “Official Comfort Counselor.” And, making a brief but meaningful cameo, is Jesus Christ.

“This has been freeing for the cast to go back to their Middle School roots,” said Wolanin. “There’s been a lot of self-discovery, a lot of personal growth and a lot of coming out of shells.”

The pushing themselves that Wolanin described happened both on and off the stage. Senior Clare J.had never sung on stage before. In the booth, Alex A. ’17 and Justin K. ’20 are in charge of sound and lights, respectively, both for the first time.

Like the troupe’s last play, “Almost, Maine,” this show features an ensemble of major characters rather than a protagonist or co-leads. This time around, there are nine principals and they all sing.

The New York Times described the songs as suggesting “a Saturday morning television cartoon set to music by Stephen Sondheim,” a characterization Wolanin agreed with.

“What these songs have in common with Sondheim’s is that from the outside, on first listen, they sound simple, but once you go in and spend some time with them you recognize how difficult they actually are.”

For this show, Heather Woodbridge is reprising her role as music director and Wolanin’s consigliere.

“Working with Heather is just so awesome,” Wolanin said. “There’s a mutual respect there and we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m so grateful to work with her.”

“The show is a glimpse into Middle School life,” Wolanin said. “For how funny it is, it’s also serious and real.”


“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door. Music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin.