It’s Talent and Improv That Make “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” a Fun Watch

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee 4

Photos / Lorenzo Corro

First off, let’s get the name out of the way. The musical is officially called The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It’s a mouthful, and it’s essential to shorten it for future mentions in this review. Shall we call it 25th Annual? Putnam? Spelling Bee? Whatever you call it, get tickets now because the musical is a riot and fun to watch.

Spelling Bee follows an eclectic group of six kids who join a spelling championship. They spell their way through a series of (potentially made-up) words while candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives. Six spellers enter, and one leaves a champion. At least the losers get a juice box.

The Sandbox Collective’s production of the musical is buzzing with talent. Some of the standouts from the show were Justine Narciso as Loggaine “Schwartzy” SchwartzAndGrubennierre and Shanaia Gomez as Marcy Park.

Narciso completely commits to the role of Schwartzy, who is pushed by her two overbearing gay fathers to win at any cost. The actress effortlessly yet effectively portrays the character’s mannerisms, especially her lisp. To borrow a phrase from Gen Z, Narciso ate, served, and devoured. She was a joy to watch, and her story arc was compelling.

Gomez was just as committed to the role of the overachiever Marcy. She’s perfect, she’s beautiful, she looks like Linda Evangelista. The role is challenging as the perfect girl trope is always in danger of being flat and monotonous. Marcy becomes alive when Gomez performs her solos “I Speak Six Languages” and “Jesus.” These two numbers are highlights of the show.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee 3

Photos / Lorenzo Corro

Each speller gets to shine with their numbers. Diego Aranda was hilarious as Chip Tolentino, especially with his solo “My Unfortunate Erection/Distraction (Chip’s Lament).” Krystal Brimner showed vulnerability as Olive Ostrovsky in “The I Love You Song.” Shaun Ocrisma was a ball of energy as the lovable and endearing Leaf Coneybear. Joshy Ramirez was a showman as William Barfée, especially in the entertaining “Magic Foot.”

The cast has two sets, and alternating with the spellers are AC Bonifacio as Marcy, Becca Coates as Schwartzy, Luis Marcelo as Chip, Angela Ken as Olive, Elian Dominguez as Leaf, and Ron Balgos as William.

While the musical is billed as a comedy, there is plenty of heart. Spelling Bee digs into the characters to understand why they are the way they are. This is most touching in Ocrisma’s excellent portrayal of Coneybear. Leaf is portrayed as someone who isn’t intelligent, but his story is emotional and satisfying. Ocrisma played double duties as both Leaf and one of Schwartzy’s fathers, and his switch between naivete and overbearing was terrific to watch.

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Photos / Lorenzo Corro

Rounding out the cast of Spelling Bee is the group of adults managing the competition. Audie Gemora was delightful as Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and Liesl Batucan performed the house down boots as Rona Lisa Peretti. Nyoy Volante, who played the Official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney, did not have plenty of scenes, but he made it count when he was onstage. “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” was glorious. Robbie Guevara alternates the role of Panch, while Jordan Andrews steps into the role of Mahoney in specific performances.

Part of the musical’s appeal is that four guests are invited on stage to join as spellers. Maymay Entrata, Ces Drilon, Phi Palmos, and Petersen Vargas joined the first preview night and improvised with the cast. Enchong Dee, Bela Padilla, Darren Espanto, and Jon Santos were invited to the second night. These add a layer of fun because no one, not even the cast, knows what to expect from them.

Watch The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee if you want a hilarious comedy with lots of heart. Who knows? You might be asked to go up on stage.

Missy Maramara directs the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, while Dingdong Rosales serves as the assistant director. Rony Fortich is the show’s musical director. The artistic team comprises Franco Ramos as choreographer, Tata Tuviera as production designer, D Cortezano as lighting designer and technical director, Aji Manalo as sound designer, and Joyce Garcia as video designer. The Sandbox Collective stages it in partnership with ABS-CBN, Star Magic, and Teatro Kapamilya.

The musical runs from February 24 to March 17, 2024, at the PowerMac Center Spotlight Blackbox Theater, Circuit Makati.

Tickets are out now via Ticket2Me at

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