Correctly spell xerophthalmia and the crowd goes wild

One of the things I did in San Francisco was attend a performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I went into the show with some trepidation, fearing that it would recall painful memories from my own career on the spelling bee circuit as a middle-schooler. Fortunately, my experience as a spelling bee participant only served to make the show more enjoyable.

Each performance is different because four volunteers from the audience are invited to join the six student characters on the stage to participate in the bee. Things got off to an unexpected start when the first audience member misspelled "Mexican", which threw the script for a minor loop since one of the characters complains later about that "easy" word. A second audience member dropped out shortly thereafter, but the last two managed to hang on a bit longer. The third eventually dropped out on "dengue".

The last audience member, on the other hand, kept spelling words correctly. It was obvious that we had reached the point in the script where all audience participants were to be eliminated, because they kept calling him to the microphone for another word. He was doing so well that the cast members had trouble keeping straight faces. The crowd went nuts when he spelled xerophthalmia correctly. (You could tell who the spelling bee veterans in the audience were, because we were the ones who cheered wildly as soon as he finished spelling, before the judge ruled him correct. After all, xerophthalmia is not a difficult word, being a simple combination of the Greek roots xeros, meaning dry, and ophthalmos, meaning eye.) After xerophthalmia, he got the "word" pharmacologicalmum. (Yes, the judge mumbled the end of the "word".) And as soon as he started spelling with "p", the judge eagerly rang the bell and declared "no, it's an f."

The first half of the show was extremely funny, for it is then we are introduced to each of the (cast member) spellers and their quirky spelling techniques. That's also where the bulk of the spelling takes place, and where we are treated to the wickedly twisted sample sentences, two examples of which can be found in the clip I linked to above. (We also get Olive's sweet My Friend, The Dictionary and the wonderfully out-of-control Pandemonium.) The second half drags a bit, but I Speak Six Languages injects some long-absent freneticism, including a little fourth-wall breakage when Marcy displaces the orchestra pianist and starts playing her own accompaniment!

If this show ever comes into your area, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing it.

Comments (7)
  1. Aaron B says:

    The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee will be at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle,

    January 9-14, 2007.

  2. Andrew says:

    I went to see this in San Francisco, too, and it’s great — just plain fun. Hearing a squeaky-clean boy scout sing at the top of his lungs about the problems caused by "…hiiis e-REEEEEEEC-tion" is absolutely hilarious.

    I wished I’d volunteered to be one of the audience spellers. They worked hard to eliminate the last one, too, but he got out on "lysergic acid diethylamide". I did come in fifth in my state spelling bee in eighth grade, but LSD is actually quite easy to spell — it’s long but utterly predictable, as long as you know it’s "lysergic", not "lycergic".

    Anyway, the audience involvement is a brilliant stroke. It probably just made it all the more fun to watch someone keep it going that long…

  3. Sean W. says:

    Sounds like it was a lot of fun!  Of course, just about anything that’s on Broadway (or your local equivalent ^_^) is usually a lot of fun.  When my girlfriend and I spent four days in New York City back in February, we saw three others:  "Wicked," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," and "Avenue Q."  We *almost* saw "Spelling Bee", but opted for "Avenue Q" instead — you can’t see them all, after all.  Still, she’s a theater buff, so I think we’ll seriously consider catching this the next time we’re up there.  Thanks for the tip!

    (And all three of "Wicked," "Scoundrels," and "Q" are great shows, and all very different, for those who are curious.  "Wicked" is a huge full-scale classic musical drama about the Wicked Witch of the West.  "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is an hilarious musical comedy based on the 1980s movie of the same name, all about con men trying to out-con each other.  And "Avenue Q" is, of course, "the dirty Sesame Street" — and with song lyrics like "What do you do with a B.A. in English?" and "The Internet Is for Porn," how can you go wrong? :)

  4. Makoto says:

    Speaking of spelling, you always spell "accomodate" not "accommodate".

    I’m not a native English speaker. I’m studying English now (It’s really tough for me by the way.) So I’m not sure it is acceptable or not.

    And I didn’t know this word when I first saw it on your blog so I tried look this word up on my dictionary, but I couldn’t…

    Anyway, your blog is really attractive and helpfull to improve my knowledge of English.

    (My English is still stupid though. I will glad if someone correct this comment!)

  5. Makoto says:

    Oops. I guess there are already some mistakes.

    "accommodate". -> "accommodate."

    I will glad -> I will be glad

    How stupid…

  6. Sorry. "Accommodate" is one of my weak words. "Minuscule" used to be another, but I overcame that one.

  7. ::Wendy:: says:

    My dad (not native english speaker) failed an English high-school equivalent Chemistry exam for ‘childish use of the language’.  The example they gave him as feedback was writing that ‘Water solidified’ (Ice).  I think he should have been given extra marks for ingeniuos use of the language – he obviously knew what he was writing about and could communicate it.  At least he can spell (unlike me, native English miss-speller).

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