Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Albuquerque Little Theatre
Review by Carla Cafolla

Also see Dean's review of Jitney

Matthew Nufer, Abby Van Gerpen,
Tim Chivalette, Morgan Geddes,
Daniel Garcia, and Rose Meizlesh

Photo by Ponic Photography
What a fun evening is to be had at The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, directed by Laura Cummins-Wright with musical direction by Cameron Illidge-Welch, now playing at the Albuquerque Little Theatre. Cheerful, charming and effervescent, the "youngsters" personify almost every teenage and pubescent angst we all experienced in our growing years.

This heartfelt tale has music and lyrics by William Finn, is based on a book by Rachael Sheinkin, and was conceived by Rebecca Feldman with additional material by Jay Reiss.

This was my first time seeing this show and I enjoyed seeing it on opening weekend. Ostensibly a play about a qualifying round for the state spelling bee, we meet a variety of delightful contestants, shepherded by a prior winner from some years earlier. Shenanigans abound. Six contestants are vying for the one opportunity to represent the county, among them a poverty-stricken girl. Another contestant's fathers are the epitome of helicopter parents, there's a young man with a "magic foot," and the youngest contestant is a girl with more talents than all of them put together. Four more contestants are pulled from the audience, adding another layer to the hilarity. They too are given words to spell, word's such as "cow" and "bear" until it is time for them to be ousted with much more difficult words.

When the last audience member exits the stage, the spelling bee begins in earnest. One by sad one, the eliminations begin. Did I mention this is a musical, and we are hugely entertained by the talent we see as we are serenaded throughout? Songs such as "My Friend, the Dictionary" tell of lonely dedication, while others like "I'm Not That Smart" and "Magic Foot" entertain and amuse us.

This show is definitely for adults–with songs like "My Unfortunate Erection" and the appearance of Jesus, child friendly it's not, but it is so relatable. The underlying elements of love, acceptance, pressure to excel, first love, and alienation call out from every corner of this play. Perhaps that's the secret of its success–it's still relevant.

Scenic design, lighting, props and sound are all stellar, as is the costume design by Rachel Capener.

Without exception, everyone involved in this production does a great job, so much so that my friends who attended the following night declared it to be "the best show they had seen in years."

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through March 24, 2024, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 Pasquale SW Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7.30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.. Saturday March 16th at 2 p.m., Thursday March 21 at 7.30 p.m.. For tickets and information, please call 505-242-4750 or visit

Cast: Tim Chivalette, Daniel Garcia, Morgan Geddes, Nicholas Handley, Rose Meizlesh, Emily Melville, Matthew Nufer, Lando Ruiz, and Abby Van Gerpen.