'The Spitfire Grill' To Premiere at Sierra Repertory Theatre
When Percy Talbot steps off the bus in tiny Gilead, Wisconsin, she's a young woman with a single wish. After five years in prison, she's determined to leave her troubled youth behind her and make a new home in this faded small town she knows only from a picture in a travel book. She lands a job at the local café, settles in and, just by being herself, brings her neighbors a long-needed lift.
That's the engaging setting for Sierra Rep's production of The Spitifre Grill, a new musical that has won raves from coast to coast as a soulful story of second chances. It plays October 4-27 at the East Sonora stage.
SRT Artistic Director Scott Viets is directing the show and is looking forward to bringing it to local audiences.
"This whole piece is so human and has so much love, compassion and empathy," Viets said. "It's about a broken town, broken relationships, people who are discouraged and withdrawn finding a kind of redemption and new hope. One person arrives and is able to start a transformation."
It's a gradual process, Viets said, and the music - a blend of bluegrass, folk and Broadway - supports the nature of the story, as characters grow and begin to heal. Percy at first seems to be the most broken character - she's a stranger to town, has a traumatic past and tough shell. She arrives wanting to change, and has chosen this small town as what she hopes is a safe refuge. The town's young sheriff, Joe, is her parole officer, and convinces his old friend Hannah, the long-time owner of the Spitfire Grill, to bring Percy on for temporary help.
Hannah and her customers are wary for awhile and tell Percy she's come to a place most folks can't wait to escape. Joe wants out, Hannah has had the grill for sale for years with no buyers and neighbors all around see nothing but dead ends. But as Percy works hard to settle in, they come to admire her spirit and determination. Then she suggests that Hannah hold a drawing for the grill where entrants pay $100 and write an essay about why they want the little business. A flood of letters come in, with hundreds of people writing about how much they want to escape to this idyllic place. Hannah, Joe and their neighbors see what they have through others' eyes, and catch that spirit of hope.
Viets has a nice blend of artists coming together for the show. Percy will be played by Wisconsin artist Elizabeth McMonagle, who just finished playing Hodel in the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof and has also appeared in national tours of Legally Blonde and The 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. SRT favorite Becky Saunders (Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, Church Basement Ladies) returns for her third lead role of this season - she plays Hannah, the tough, independent owner of the Spitfire Grill who first takes a chance on Percy. SRT newcomer Evan Faram plays the sheriff, Joe. Suzanne Petrela is Percy's shy co-worker Shelby, and MJ Jurgensen returns to SRT as the town busybody and postmaster, Effy. Jurgensen delighted audiences earlier this season as Vi Petty, the wife of record producer Norm Petty in SRT's Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, almost stealing the show with her impromptu dance moves. Viets said this new role is a great showcase for her voice and comedic skills.
SRT's Mark Seiver, just finishing up his performance in the live band for RESPECT, joins Viets as the musical director. Los Angeles guest artist Jay Heiserman, the Emmy-winning art director for television's The Ellen DeGeneres Show, who designed the retro kitchen set for SRT's Church Basement Ladies, returns as scenic designer. Costume design is by guest artist Austin Rausch (Don't Dress for Dinner). Lighting is by guest artist Greg Mitchell, props by SRT's Mercy Sharpe and stage management by SRT's Lia Metz.
SRT's production of The Spitfire Grill is presented with the help of Season Sponsor Clarke Broadcasting (radio stations KVML, 92Q and KKBN and MyMotherLode.com).
The Spitfire Grill opens Friday, October 4 and plays through Sunday, October 27 at SRT's East Sonora stage. Thursdayand Friday performances begin at 7, Saturday evening performances are at 8 and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2. A "talk back" discussion with the director and cast will be held after the evening performance on Thursday, October 17. Ticket prices range from $24 to $32 depending on the day of the performance. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 209-532-3120 or by visiting www.sierrarep.org.