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CSU Theatre puts on ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’

Collegian | Grace Goolsby
Marcy Park, played by Ruby Duka, commands the stage Nov. 3. Put on by Colorado State University Theatre, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was directed by Noah Racey.

Colorado State University’s theme for the 2023-24 school year is democracy. This shows up in numerous places and events across campus, but an unexpected appearance is in CSU Theater, with their production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which premiered Friday, Nov. 3. 

Noah Racey, assistant professor of theater and director of the show, detailed what goes into a production like this and how one is selected.


“Any number of different factors can come into play,” Racey said. “For ‘Spelling Bee,’ we had broken down what did democracy mean to us, and part of it was being able to laugh.” 

A story riddled with humor and wit, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” follows six elementary-age students competing for champion of the titular spelling bee while also “figuring out how to be human,” Racey said. 

Senior Nyssa Justis, a theater major with a concentration in musical theater, plays Olive Ostrovsky, one of the main spellers. Justis has been performing since a young age and helped establish a performing arts community and venue called The Spark, located in Boulder, Colorado. 

“I love the show,” Justis said. “It’s one of my favorite shows, and I’ve always wanted to play Olive, so I feel very, very lucky that I’m getting this opportunity.”

Something that separates college theater from other programs is the process. 

“We get to see how everything comes together and works, and our peers are designing the shows,” Justis said. “It’s a collaborative process where you learn a lot about the process on top of doing the show. … It gives you this appreciation and understanding of what’s going on, which I think is so important because it makes you a better collaborator and artist that way. I feel like humans are very unique because we are artistic.” 

The artistry certainly came through in this musical. A set designed with meticulous detail, costumes that match each character’s personality and performances that bring the story to life truly drew in the audience and allowed bonds to form between characters and audience members. 

The relationships between the audience and the cast were a bit closer than in other productions.

Including the audience is not very common in stage productions, and that is another unique aspect of “Spelling Bee.” Audience members could volunteer to be called up on stage and take turns spelling words alongside the cast. 


“I thought it was really cool that actual kids from Fort Collins got to go up and spell words, and their reactions were hilarious,” said Piper Vasquez, a senior psychology student who attended opening night. “Their vocals and acting were really touching, and you could feel the emotions they put into it.” 

“The I Love You Song” is a number wrought with emotion in which Olive speaks with her parents, who are absent from her life, though in different ways. Justis and the rest of the cast brought the story of a girl who longs to feel loved to life. 

With “Pandemonium,” an upbeat tune in which the kids lament the difficulty of the words they are given, this randomness and uncertainty of the words are compared with the uncertainty and difficulty of life. 

Each piece of the puzzle was put together to create a seamless show. From the directing to the acting and atmosphere, each aspect of the production deserves great commendation and praise. In the words of Noah Racey, “Timing is everything: … putting it all in the same room and having it happen at the right time.”

There’s still time to see the musical. Get showtimes and tickets on the CSU Theatre website.

Reach Aubree Miller at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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