Vintage Verbiage: Real life spelling champions dazzle in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

By Megan K. Hill

UA Theatre & Dance is opening our second musical of the semester this week with another William Finn masterpiece, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This show takes place inside the final round of the Putnam Bee where six contestants are fighting for the chance to compete in the National Spelling Bee competition in Washington.  These wild characters are guided through the Bee by equally wild adults in a hilarious coming of age comedy full of love, laughter, and heart.

Director, Tom Alsip, is a third year directing MFA candidate from Mobile, AL. As a part of the Masters in Fine Arts Directing program,  students direct a musical in their final year. Alsip studied musical theatre for his undergraduate at the world renowned Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. He also worked in New York for a number of years and on the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. Needless to say, students were thrilled at the chance to audition for Alsip and for the chance to work on this Tony Award winning show. Auditions and callbacks were a whirlwind of childish whims and queries which lead to Alsip’s all-star cast of both Theatre & Dance veterans and new talent.

Unbeknownst to Tom Alsip, several of the members of his “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” team are real life champion spellers!

Matt Kelley is playing Chip Tolentino in this production and is a sophomore musical theatre major from Cedartown, GA. He took first place in the Polk School District spelling bee in the 5th grade on the word “etiquette.” Kelley enjoys this show “because it gives [him] a chance to revisit [his] childhood as a champion speller, and screlt along the way.” The character of Chip endures some of life’s most difficult pubescent moments in the show, while also singing one of the most difficult vocal lines

Zach Stolz (Vice Principal Panch), took third place in his 8th grade spelling bee in his home state of Arkansas on the word “relevant.” Stolz is a third year Acting MFA student and Putnam is his second show of the semester which he stepped into right off of his run in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Stolz brings a sharp wit to the dynamic of this musical with his one-liners and quick improvisations with his stage counterpart, Miranda Therkelsen (Rona).

Annie Yonge (Costume Designer) is also a spelling champion! She won the Fairhope Intermediate School Bee in the 5th grade on the word “strategy” and the Fairhope Middle School Bee in 6th grade. Yonge has been a scholarship student for the costume shop for several years and been an assistant designer/wardrobe supervisor as well. Yonge is quick witted herself, much like the characters, and her designs pay homage to the original production while giving the cast their own fun style.

Congrats to spelling champions old and new!



















The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs November 6-12 in The Allen Bales Theatre on the University of Alabama Campus. Tickets are $10 for all performances, available in Rowand-Johnson Hall at the ticket office, by phone at 205.348.3400 or online at More information on this production and the rest of the UA Theatre & Dance season can be found at