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Theatre: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
At the 25th Annual
We've memorized the manual
About how to spell these words
Words that require thought
People think we're automatons
But that is exactly what we're not
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a musical about six misfit kids in a spelling bee and the three crazy adults in charge. The music was written by William Finn and the book was written by Rachel Sheinkin.
Cut Song: "Why We Like Spelling" shows up on the main soundtrack but generally isn't present in performances.
Dark Reprise / Triumphant Reprise: Apart from the first few audience members, one of these comes up nearly every time someone gets eliminated. Leaf's reprise manages to be both, starting out dark and ending triumphant.
Logainne's is arguably the darkest, since she's the only one that is devastated by her elimination (aside from Chip, whose elimination is played for laughs). Her reprise doesn't end on a happy note. She leaves close to tears.
Dawson Casting: The adult actors play characters who are in elementary or middle school.
Decoy Protagonist: Chip Tollentino is introduced to us as last year's champion, the odds on favorite, and an all around nice guy. However, he is the first non-audience speller to be eliminated.
Final Love Duet: While officially it's not, "Second" has some element of this. Just ask the shippers.
Foregone Conclusion: The play is about competition, but in order to resolve each character arc successfully, the play has to make the same contestant win, and the same contestants lose in the right place, every time it's performed. Incidentally, that means that no matter how many times this production is put on, the winner of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will always be Barfée.
Geek Physiques: This can get passed around or eliminated on account of differing actors between productions, but Barfée is frequently overweight.
Harpo Does Something Funny: A few segments can be improvised, though often there are default lines that performers can fall back on. In particular, Panch is often played by an improvisational comic and is given a fair amount of leniency with how he deals with the spellers from the audience.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mitch Mahoney, the comfort counselor. He's an ex-con who at one point expresses a desire to "beat [the spellers] up a little, so they understand that pain has degrees." However, "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor" is probably one of the biggest Crowning Moments Of Heartwarming in the entire show, since it's one of the only times any character treats the Bee as anything other than Serious Business. Oh, and in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, it turns out that Mitch decided to become a comfort counselor full-time.
Missing Mom / Disappeared Dad: For Olive, both of her parents are absent in their own way. Her mother is on a self-discovery trip in India, while her dad is implied to be emotionally distant as a result. (As well as physically absent from the bee.)
Mood Whiplash: From "The I Love You Song", Olive's mother breaks the somber, beautiful tone of the piece with the line "if you feel my gloom, blame it on me. Blame it on your daddily and mammily, because depression runs in our family", which usually garners a few laughs from the audience.
"The I Love You Song" itself is a massive mood whiplash, as the play is almost entirely a raunchy comedy up until this point and there's utterly no warning that the upcoming song is going to be leading to more than a few tears until it finally starts.
Logainne's elimination could be seen as one, though it can vary between productions. She hilariously misspells a three letter word (vug)... but she doesn't laugh. Instead she begs America to still love her even though America hates losers. Some productions have her drag her feet off stage, but some make her leave in tears. She's the only character whose exist doesn't end on a happy note.
Mundane Made Awesome: Apart from the general premise of having a musical about a spelling bee, some scenes particularly play this up with things like spelling in slow motion.
No Fourth Wall: Along with the audience spellers, the audience treated as if they're attending the spelling bee rather than a play about a spelling bee. The intermission is even a "snack break."
No Romantic Resolution: Aside from Olive hugging William and him saying she helped him study, there is no resolution to their crush.
Odd Name Out: Leaf's siblings are Marigold, Brook, Pinecone, Landscape, Raisin...and Paul.
Opposites Attract: Logainne's Carl Dad and Dan Dad. Carl is all business, making Logainne practice her spelling without end, while Dan is much more lax and values Logainne's comfort over her ability to spell.
Justified, as the plot of this play cannot work properly unless the cast members are the ones to make it to the finals, so they had to come up with some pretext to eliminate the audience members eventually.
Positive Discrimination: Averted, and averted very deliberately. Logainne is the most notable case: she's the child of a gay couple, but they are portrayed as deeply flawed, to put it mildly, like any heterosexual parents are capable of being. Marcy looks like she plays this trope straight, being an Asian portrayed as one of the best, but then she throws the bee after advice from Jesus, deciding not to live up to expectations. Chip's aversion of the trope is a variable case depending on the production; because his last name is "Tolentino", Chip is sometimes played by a Hispanic actor. And no, Chip doesn't win the bee either; he's eliminated when he's distracted by an erection he got from looking at an attractive girl, and because of his distraction he tries to back up and correct himself in the middle of a word, which is against the rules.
Then Logainne's father attempts to sabotage the foot by spilling something all over the floor (in between contestants which is why the organizers don't see him do it) so Barfée can't use it to spell. This throws Barfée off for a minute, but he recovers and manages to get his word right anyway!
Running Gag: In regards to the spellers' words. William gets terms that either sound off-putting or are medically related. Examples include halitosis, antihistamine (which is especially pertinent to his peanut allergy) and lugubrious. Logainne, who has a lisp, gets words with excessive “s” sounds such as cystitis and strabismus. Chip's naughty-sounding words have a lot to do with his libido— tittup, omPHALOskepsis. And Leaf's are all South American rodents.
Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Chip's Lament comes in one of two versions, depending on the intended audience of a given production; the one without the rude words mostly has new rhymes to suit, except right at the end where it uses the original rhyme scheme and a Last-Second Word Swap to give attentive listeners a chance to realise precisely what Chip's lamenting.
Unwinnable: The audience members cannot win the spelling bee; if they get too far, they'll unexpectedly get several hard words thrown at them in a row until they get one wrong. Justified, however, because the play wouldn't work properly otherwise.
"Well Done, Son!" Guy: Leaf is like this; however, it's not just his dad he wants approval from, but his entire family.
When You Coming Home, Dad?: Olive has a seat saved for her father, who's working late. Naturally, he just gets later and later as the bee progresses.