‘Spitfire Grill’ serves up a tasty down home dishEntertainment News, Feature Story, Latest Issue, Section 4A Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
There are some musicals that no matter how many times you endure them, no matter how many friends tell you how good they are they just don’t do it for you. The musical version of the film The Spitfire Grill can fall into this category.
The 1996 film bombed. The musical of the same name, written by James Valqc and Fred Alley, doesn’t stray from the films storyline except to add 16 or so songs, which is a necessary given when you’re writing a musical.
The results can be cloying, overwrought, forced and downright boring depending on who directs, musically directs and stars in the show.
Thankfully, award-winning North Coast Repertory Theatre’s (NCRT) version of the show is none of those things.
NCRT and their creative team and cast have taken this piece and have given it a fresh new life, which is honestly not an easy thing to do, especially in their intimate space.
The story is simple enough. Percy (Aurora Florence), a young woman who has recently been released from prison, for a crime that is not revealed until much later in the script, boards a bus to Gilead, Wisconsin. She has chosen this town because while in prison she found a picture of the town with a caption that reads “Autumn colors along Copper Creek near Gilead, Wisconsin”.
Her plan is to start her life over. However, she’s a moody, angry piece of work. She has many trust issues and even though she may look like the kind of girl you’d want to take home to meet the folks, she’s not.
She arrives in Gilead and is greeted by Joe (Kevin Earley) the town’s sheriff, who will also be her parole officer while she’s in town. He brings her to the town’s only restaurant, The Spitfire Grill, where she will be residing and working. The Spitfire is owned by a crotchety, pissed off old widower named Hannah (Devlin) who is just as happy to take Percy in as she is to be taken in. They learn immediately that they should probably just stay out of each other’s way.
The next morning the Gilead town folk, busybody Effy (Maggie Carney), Hannah’s nephew Caleb (Kevin Bailey) and his wife Shelby (Meghan Andrews) are all a buzz knowing that their small town has taken in a new resident who has a checkered past. No one knows who she is, or what she did but they are determined to find out.
Soon after Percy’s arrival Hannah falls and injures her hip leaving Percy to run the Spitfire along with the help of Shelby. Caleb isn’t too happy about this since he likes to take control of pretty much everything when it comes to his aunt and wife, but agrees to it at least until his aunt gets back on her feet.
During this time Percy starts to open up and in time the three women form a bond. Hannah tells them that she had planned to sell the Spitfire but there hasn’t been any takers. Percy has an idea and proposes to Hannah that she should raffle off the business and make money at the same time. Interested buyers will send in $100 and an essay on why they would want the Spitfire and the best essay will win the business.
The mail starts pouring in and soon everyone in town is excited at the possibility of finding new owners for the Spitfire, everyone except Caleb, who is still determined to find out what Percy did that landed her in jail.
There are a few more surprises that follow, but there really is no point in telling you here. You’re better off buying tickets to the show and finding out for yourself.
NCRT’s creative team lead by Director Jeffery B. Moss and Musical Director Alby Potts keep the action moving seamlessly and effortlessly.
Moss, and NCRT’s Artistic Director David Ellenstein have assembled a great cast. And Potts, with his small and cleverly hidden onstage band, has given the score everything it needs to make each song worth listening to.
Florence plays Percy with just the right amount of anger and hurt that, for lack of a better description, is what you might expect from a junkyard dog. Florence is definitely no dog, but you see how guarded she is in the beginning and you know that there’s a wounded soul underneath it all that will blossom if she just lets love and trust in again.
Florence vocally soars from her first number “A Ring Around The Moon,” to her breathtaking eleven o’clock number “Shine.” It’s a killer song and Florence nails it.
Devlin B takes her role as Hannah and turns in a well-crafted performance that goes from bitter old woman to fierce and shrewd business woman to a woman who finally lets joy back into her life. It’s a great thing to watch and Devlin handles that transformation with ease.
Carney’s Effy is the scene-stealer of the show. No matter what is going on onstage when she enters you know you’re going to get a good laugh in. Not only that but she has killer pipes and isn’t afraid to use them. Carney has been a San Diego theater favorite for some time now and her performance here shows you why. Her comic delivery is priceless and impeccable.
Earley, a Chicago native, got his start at the age of ten, thanks to his mother who was the artistic director at one of Chicago’s most notable theater’s The Marriott Lincolnshire.
He has boyish looks that can work against a role like Joe, but he gives the sheriff just enough of an edge that we get to see he too has a bit of pent up anger and few issues of his own that he needs to get through. He’s also got a voice that is very easy to listen to.
Bailey and Andrews round out the cast and both do justice to their roles. Especially Andrews who sings “Wild Bird” beautifully, while blossoming from a mousy housewife to a self assured woman who demands to be treated equally.
Perhaps the best thing about NCRT’s production is that the show has been extended until July 2. So do yourself a big favor and buy tickets, it will be well worth the price.
For tickets to Spitfire Grill call the box office at 858-481-1055 or visit the theater at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.
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