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Broadway and TV star Colin Hanlon directs a fresh George Street Playhouse production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

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Broadway and TV star Colin Hanlon is bringing a fresh and newly conceived production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to the George Street Playhouse stage in New Brunswick, New Jersey

George Street Playhouse is presenting a fresh and newly conceived production of the Broadway/Off-Broadway hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Performances run from March 14 and continue through April 9 at the Arthur Laurents Theater at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.

This charming musical comedy of self-discovery tells the tale of six middle school “misfits” in Putnam County, New York finding themselves through one of the most competitive and brave journeys adolescents can embark on, a spelling bee.

The new version of the Tony Award-winning story is being directed by Broadway actor and television star Colin Hanlon who pitched the idea to GSP's Artistic Director David Saint.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
Broadway and TV star Colin Hanlon chats with host Doug Doyle about directing a newly conceived version of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at GSP

Hanlon (Broadway: Falsettos, Rent, Wicked (First National Tour) and In Transit andTelevision: Submissions Only (Producer and star), Modern Family, Difficult People, The Sinner, The Good Fight and currently Uncoupled on Netflix) spoke with WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle about the show and his brilliant career.

"The concept was I'm not going to do the show again unless I can set it in 2023. The show is perfect in 2005 when it was done on Broadway. It was a masterpiece but it was of the time, so some of the jokes were very current to that moment. We've learned a lot of lessons since 2005, culturally and in our society, in our politics. With permission of the writers, I emailed them, we have little tweaks, little updates. We took some things out that were deemed a little insensitive in 2023. My costume designer, Lisa Zinni, is brilliant. There's homages to the original design but we've come up with our own version, all these kids are there own unique perspectives. But the show really holds up. The universal message is find people that are like you and find a place were you can be included."

Hanlon is also excited about his cast and team.

"It was interesting. I saw maybe 800 people including submission tapes. I wanted it to be more diverse than the original cast. This cast is just incredible. They are incredible actors and comedians. They sing like dreams. I was so worried that after I asked them to do it that one of them was going to get another show and not be available, which happens all the time. By the luck of the draw, I got all of my first choices. The work hard every day. They make new choices every day. They listen to me. My choreographer Nancy Renee Braun is a genius. She has worked on a million Broadway shows and she's my right-hand person. I can't do this without her. It's an incredible creative team. It's going to be a fantastic show!"

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The cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at George Street Playhouse

The GSP cast for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee features: Ally Bonino (Rona Lisa Peretti), Jordan Matthew Brown (William Barfee), Lila Coogan (Olive Ostrovsky), Coleman Steele Cummings (Chip Tolentino) Angel Lin (Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere), Sammy Pignalosa (Leaf Coneybear), Aaron Michael Ray (Mitch Mahoney), Kilty Reidy (Douglas Panch), Sumi Yi (Marcy Park), Izzy Figueroa (Understudy) and Gillian Hassert (Understudy).

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee book is by Rachel Sheinkin with additional material by Jay Reiss and features music and lyrics by Tony Award® winner William Finn. Musical Direction is by Mat Eisenstein and choreography by Nancy Renee Braun. Assistant Director is Lindsay Chambers.

Design and Production team features: Jason Simms (Scenic Designer), Lisa Zinni (Costume Designer), Joe Saint (Lighting Designer), Cody Spencer (Sound Designer), (Hair & Wig Designer), Samantha Flint (Production Stage Manager) and Casting by McCorkle Casting.

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The GSP production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through April 9 in New Brunswick, NJ

Colin Hanlon is a GSP favorite. This is his sixth production at the theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He co-directed Its Only a Play last season at George Street Playhouse. His performance in Tick, Tick, Boom! at GSP in 2004 drew rave reviews. Hanlon thanks David Saint for allowing him to play the role of Jonathan Larson in that powerful musical.

"It was sort of like the 'Spelling Bee' experience. We wanted to show up every day and we wanted to make the best piece of theater. It felt really special."

You can SEE the entire interview with Colin Hanlon here.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.