Looking To Have A Fun, Nerdy Time? The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Musical Has What You Need

Looking To Have A Fun, Nerdy Time? ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ Musical Has What You Need

It's not too L-A-T-E to catch the B-E-E!

There are a few reasons why you should catch the Philippine staging of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ and it’s not just because you should improve your vocabulary.

Related: What To Expect At ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ Musical

What happens when you put a bunch of quirky overachievers in one room and make them compete in an academic contest while they’re dealing with all the chaos and emotional ups-and-downs of growing up? You’d be reliving my (and most kids’) entire educational experience, actually.

Kidding aside, The Sandbox Collective’s staging of Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a quirky, fun, and lighthearted tale of six kids and a couple of adults all making a county Spelling Bee more meaningful than we initially deem it to be.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Musical PH

While Spelling Bee definitely caters to lovers of theater, it’s not overtly dramatic or grand. It’s not some highbrow war romance epic—it’s just a joyous celebration of youth, music, and storytelling. And it was a fitting first staging of the year by The Sandbox Collective, who are celebrating their 10th year in the industry this 2024. It was an opportunity to tap into the young audience of musical theater, introduce and establish rising musical talents, and breathe new life into the local theater scene.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Musical PH cast

The interactive musical was a thoroughly amusing showcase of talent by veteran and rising stars. It’s pure, simple musical fun, and we simply can’t wait for more unique stories to be told on stage in this medium that’s clearly alive and kicking.


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Musical PH

Largely character-driven, Spelling Bee gives us a glimpse into the lives and personalities of six kids, teaching us something about them, the various forces and circumstances that shape them, and perhaps a little bit about ourselves, too. The ensemble of “kids” not just had great chemistry together as actors and as singers, but they also had great comedic timing and a lively energy that made the decision of casting young artists in young roles a fantastic call.

The comedy was quick and clever, with jokes that could fly over your head if you weren’t paying attention. From the Lord Jesus Himself making a cameo to guide Marcy, to Chip’s unfortunate erection, these awkward, almost absurd moments made for an entertaining watch. The words they were made to spell were also a hoot—can you spell Weltanschauung?

But Spelling Bee was less about how complicated a word was. It was more about how complex, confusing, chaotic, and yet irreplaceable the experience of growing up is. More than just exploring the pressures kids face to be the best, it also touches on the characters’ personal lives and the various struggles they encounter—absent parents, puberty, crushes, friendships, and more. At several points in the musical, you’ll find yourself aww-ing right after you let out a chuckle, and it’s a testament to the entire cast and crew’s work to blend the hilarious and the heartwarming into one eccentric musical.


I caught the show starring Diego Aranda as Chip Tolentino, Becca Coates as Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, Ron Balgos as William Barfée, Shaun Ocrisma as Leaf Coneybear, and Star Magic talents Shanaia Gomez as Marcy Park and Angela Ken as Olive Ostrovsky. Each character had their own quirks, their own unique personalities, and their own stories and struggles that made for a diverse, compelling bunch. Liesl Batucan-Del Rosario played Bee moderator Rona Lisa Peretti with a sparkly, professional elegance that made her own quirky moments that much more endearing.

Professional theater newbies Shanaia and Angela deftly handled their characters with plenty of heart and commitment. Shanaia’s Marcy, the overachieving young girl who can speak six languages but is also very tired of having to be the best, was stoic and all-business until she loses. Then we see her “break” as she relishes in the relief that she no longer has to conform to the mold she’s been in her whole life.

Angela Ken as the shy but cheerful Olive was easily a standout. With her vibrant expressions and a voice that cuts like a knife, she pulls you into her performance, endearing Olive to even the most cynical of audiences.

When she sang her first “mama, mama, mama,” my friend—who’s been a theater kid all her life—and I had to exchange a look, eyebrows raised in praise. Her strong, crystal clear voice and emotional intensity brought a hush to the theater, captivating every eye more and more every time she cried out for her mother.

The rest of the cast performed skillfully, acting and voices on point, committed to making every moment—whether they were center stage or waiting for their turn—a character-building detail. Young theater mainstay and ever-effervescent Shaun as Leaf sticking a bunny sticker onto my hand during intermission and crawling onto the stage on all fours, as well as Shanaia as Marcy running downstage as she celebrates losing, are moments that live rent-free in my mind. Even the interactions they initiated with their understandably shy guest spellers while another speller was at the mic stand was amusing without being distracting.


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Musical PH ANGELA KEN

The interactive aspect of the musical adds new levels of fun. In every show, Spelling Bee invites guest spellers to the stage, and since every show would have different guest spellers, you never know what you’re gonna get. The March 3rd show saw GomBurZa (2023)’s Cedrick Juan, Gabbi Garcia, designer Rajo Laurel, and Joey Cosio-Mercado as competing spellers felled by some complicated words and introduced with clever references. For instance, Vice Principal Panch (Audie Gemora) informed everyone that when Cedrick Juan grows up, he wants to be a priest. Go figure.

This made for an unpredictable and engaging time, even though there were a couple of lulls in the story that made some moments stand out more than others. But the ensemble, the music, and the overall staging was a delight to the eyes and ears. Spelling Bee is for anyone who just wants a large heaping of laughs and a smidgen of emotional catharsis, served through a unique concept and with a side of stellar performances.

Catch the last two weekends of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Powermac Center Spotlight Blackbox Theater at Circuit Makati until March 17th. Have a great time learning new words, watching talents rise to the occasion, and enjoying the heartfelt joy that is musical theater. Get tickets here (priced from P1900 to P3300) and make sure to check out the hashtags #SpellSandbox2024 and #SandboxNowandTen for more.

Audience was allowed—nay, encouraged—to take photos and videos for posting to social media. Don’t do this for every musical you see!

Continue Reading: Curtains Up! All The Musicals And Plays Coming To The Philippines This 2024