SYNPOSIS: At the 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a number of extremely nervous high school students prepare to compete for the right to go on to the National Spelling Bee and fame and glory as a championship speller. As they “sing” their stories and use various techniques to spell the increasingly arcane words given to them, we root for all of them as the spelling bee becomes a metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood, with all its complexities.
LANGUAGE: A small number of profanities and vulgarities, but nothing that would add up to stronger than a “PG-13” rating. The language includes three uses of “Goddamn,” one use of “Jesus Christ,” four uses of “damn” and “Oh God,” and one use of “screw it.”
SMOKING/DRINKING/DRUG USE: None.
SEX: None. However, one young participant, Chip, worries in a song that the onset of puberty is wrecking his ability to concentrate, particularly since he has a crush on another contestant’s sister, Marigold Coneybear, and anytime she comes near him he is presented with an embarrassing anatomical dilemma.
OTHER: One of the contestants has same-sex parents, who show up to root for their child (and embarrass her, as all parents embarrass their teenaged children). One contestant from the local catholic school prays to Jesus for help, and He appears to offer her guidance.
FOR WHICH AUDIENCES?: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is suitable for general audiences and teenaged children. The mildly ribald “Chip’s Lament” may be inappropriate for pre-teens who have not yet experienced puberty, and the brief appearance of Jesus, while not at all blasphemous, is somewhat irreverent. The small amount of profane language may be discomfiting to conservative audience members.
RATING: If it were a movie, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee would be rated “PG-13.”
NOTE: The playwright and composer of Spelling Bee have created two versions of the show—the original version, which is a little more risqué, and would probably receive an “R” rating, and a second, more tame version. For the run of the show, PTC is producing the tamer version, which includes the elements listed above and would be rated “PG-13.” For those who would like to see the original version, which, as the authors say, “is funnier and more to the point,” PTC will perform that version two times: at the Thursday, September 18 performance and the Wednesday, September 24 performance. Season ticket holders who do not wish to see the more risqué version may exchange out of those performances into one of the tamer performances, and season ticket holders on other nights who do wish to see the original, more risqué version may exchange into one of those performances. The more risqué version includes a little more strong language and a more explicit version of “Chip’s Lament,” in which Chip bemoans the fact that puberty is wrecking his concentration at the spelling bee.