Ramapo theater returns with hysterical Putnam County Spelling Bee

Photo courtesy of Jennifer French.

Ramapo College’s theater department has been exclusively making virtual theater productions since the fall of 2020, and the school has not put on a live student production since March 2020. This is why “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” directed by Joe Kiely, is such an exciting event for any theater lover on campus and anybody else that looks forward to safe and entertaining theater nights in the area.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a comedy musical, with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin, and additional material by Rebecca Feldman. The one thing that separates this from most other comedy musicals — with the exception of “Book of Mormon” — is that this is actually funny, and everyone who worked on this particular production utilized this humor to its fullest extent.

The story follows six zany children (played by adults, or college students in this case) competing in a fictional spelling bee led by three equally rather interesting adults (also played by college students), as they all learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other through song and dance.

Ramapo’s production premiered on Oct. 22, and the production team took extensive precautions to keep the live performance as safe and anti-Covid friendly as possible. 

The first thing that awaits a potential visitor when they enter the Berrie Center is a check-in for vaccinations or COVID-19 testing. Masks are required for all audience members during the whole length of the musical, which is around one hour and 40 minutes, meaning that this production is incredibly safe for everybody involved, from actors and technicians, to audience members and theater ushers.

This mask rule is upheld even for the four so-called “VIP audience spellers,” which are pre-determined audience members that join the actors on stage every evening, each time a different group of four, as they try to compete with the actor spellers. The “VIP audience spellers” keep their masks on for as long as they are on stage, which for some might mean up to 45 minutes, depending on how “good” their spelling is.

I actually had the honor of being one of those “VIP” visitors, and I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with the incredible actors and musicians for almost half of the musical’s runtime. I sincerely wish every audience member had the opportunity to experience what I had, because I had never been more amazed by the ease and professionalism with which everyone acted, and most importantly, had fun.

No matter how much or little you love theater or musicals — I myself am not a huge fan of musicals, but I was honestly on the verge of tears because of the fact that I was finally seeing a live and successful theater production — do yourself a favor, and go see this production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” 

If you still haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing it for some reason, you are in luck. Three more showings are occurring on Oct. 28, 29 and 30, all at 8 p.m.. The production is located at the Berrie Center in the Sharp Theater, on the first floor of the college’s contemporary arts building. 

Tickets for Ramapo College students are $5, and general admission is $15. A very reasonable price, I would say, for almost Broadway-like quality of set design, costuming, lighting, performances, and direction.  “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is safe, entertaining and fulfilling in every aspect imaginable.


5/5 stars