The Players Theatre serves up a treat with The Spitfire Grill.
By Kay Kipling
Some of us may have vague memories of a 1996 film called The Spitfire Grill, which told the story of a young woman parolee who turns up in a small town in Maine and changes the lives of some of the townspeople. But most of us probably are not familiar with the 2001 musical of the same name, which transfers the locale to Wisconsin and features a decidedly happier ending to her story.
That’s the version that’s onstage now at the Players Theatre, and thanks to artistic director Jeffery Kin for bringing us a pleasant surprise in the midst of so many familiar (even if beloved) musicals on local stages. The Spitfire Grill has its own distinctive voice in the characters, the music (mostly country and bluegrass-tinged) and the way it draws us into the town of Gilead.
Bobbie Burrell, Kirk V. Hughes and Jennifer K. Baker in the Players’ The Spitfire Grill.
The parolee, Percy (Jennifer K. Baker, who recently starred in the Players’ Little Women as Jo), is tough on the outside but filled with longing on the inside, as evidenced by the magazine photo she carries of autumn leaves in Gilead, her reason for locating there. She has a past, which we know we’ll soon discover, but her present involves working in a grill owned by the equally tough-on-the-outside Hannah (Bobbie Burrell), who has a secret of her own. Soon they’re joined at the long-for-sale grill by Shelby (Ellie Pattison), whose husband Caleb (Bill Sarazen) has his masculine ego-related reasons for not wanting Shelby to work. Throw in the town gossip (Laura Sommer Raines) and the young sheriff (Kirk V. Hughes), who has his eye on Percy, and you have a full complement of small-town characters who need each other to achieve happiness.
They may find some sort of salvation in Percy’s idea to help Hannah get rid of the grill through a raffle system, where people from around the country send in money and write essays about why they would want the grill for themselves. You can probably tell where this is headed, in more ways than one, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy getting there.
Director Kin (who also plays a small but pivotal nonspeaking role here) is fortunate in having a cast that can not only sing strongly separately but sounds impressive together as well. The score, by James Valcq, ranges confidently from lively (Out of the Frying Pan, Shoot the Moon) to stirring (The Colors of Paradise) to touching (When Hope Goes, Wild Bird). And designer Mike Gray’s rustic set works well to convey the grill, which becomes a home of sorts for more than one lost soul.
Considering the period the piece is set in (the mid 1980s) and the back story being told, some of the actors’ actual ages make the timeline a bit confusing. But that’s a minor concern with a show that holds so much spirit and heart.
The Spitfire Grill continues through Jan. 25; call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.