BWW Review: Lovely SPITFIRE GRILL Brings Love and Hope to the Garry Marshall
The Spitfire Grill/book and music by James Valcq/book and lyrics by Fred Alley/based on the 1996 film by Lee David Zlotoff/Garry Marshall Theatre/directed by Dimitri Toscas/musical director: Anthony Zediker/through August 11
The 1996 Film The Spitfire Grill was a big winner at Sundance and other festivals. It is a drama about a small New England town called Gillead where one restaurant The Spitfire Grill has been up and running for 40 years. Since then a musical was created by Fred Alley and James Valq, and little is changed. The characters and most of the plotline are the same as in the movie, with the addition of music, of course. The Spitfire Grill is a small restaurant business for a small community. Its owner Hannah Ferguson (Sarah Saviano) cooks three meals a day and runs the place by herself. Bold and stubborn as a mule, Hannah keeps a dark secret about a close relation. It takes a stranger to Gillead to uncover the secret, to cause further complication and ... to gradually set things right. Now onstage at the Garry Marshall Theatre through August 11, The Spitfire Grill is a winning production that will entertain you and simultaneously tug at your heart strings.
Percy (Rachel Sarah Mount) was released from prison. Sheriff Joe (Erich Schroeder) becomes Percy's parole officer. Hannah hires her reluctantly to help at the Spitfire and Shelby, Hannah's trusted helper (Ashley Argota) teaches Percy to cook and run the kitchen. Many like Shelby's husband Caleb (Joey Ruggiero) are against Percy because of her background. She finds herself falling in love with Joe and he with her, but she keeps a distance. Hannah leaves bread on the back porch every night for a strange Visitor (Nicu Brouillette). Percy learns to relate to and feel for the homeless Visitor. When it is revealed who he is and also why she was sent to jail, a lot of deep emotions come to the surface, and Hannah and Percy's relationship takes on a whole new meaning. For those who have not seen the film, go and experience it for yourselves!
The music for this show by Alley and Valcq is truly beautiful and makes the play somewhat of an operetta, in spite of the dialogue. The lyrics are poetic and make you feel Gillead's leaves changing colors and the unity that all have within the beauty of the wilderness. All the actors, except Percy and Shelby, play musical instruments, as with John Doyle's production of Sweeney Todd a few years back. This adds so much flavor to the interactions of the characters. They play and sing, play and talk, with the music, like Gillead itself, becoming another character in the ensemble. Tanya Orellana's set design, both interior and exterior, makes you feel as if you were in the place breathing in all of the glorious simplicity.
Under Dimitri Toscas' finely paced direction, the ensemble are miraculous. Mount has a powerful vocal instrument and relates so well to Percy's condition. Saviano as Hannah is astounding in her strong interpretation of the role. Ruggiero is appropriately unlikable, Argota rather underplays Shelby's honesty making her one of Gillead's most respectable inhabitants, next to Sheriff Joe, who also nicely underplays his role. Linda Kerns is a comedic standout as mailperson Effy, so nosy as she meddles in everyone's personal business.
Don't miss The Spitfire Grill! It's a lovely sensitive night in the theatre.
(photo credit: Aaron Batzdorff)