BWW Review: THE SPITFIRE GRILL from Showtunes Is Brimming with Heart
Dear Readers, you may have never heard of the 1996 indie film "The Spitfire Grill". If so then it stands to reason you've never heard of the musical of the same name. Well, Showtunes Theatre Company is here to rectify one of those gaps in your knowledge as they've resurrected the not often done musical and are giving it their usual amazing concert treatment. And with this lovely story and the incredible talent they bring together, the result is a stirring show filled with heart, laughter, and tears and a wonderful little musical that begs to be seen.
Now, if you are familiar with the movie, I should warn you the musical has a big departure at the end. But the story here, with book and music by James Valcq and lyrics and book by Fred Alley still has the same basic premise. Percy Talbott (Tori Gresham) is fresh out of prison and looking for a place to start over. After seeing an ad for it in a magazine, she makes her way to the tiny town of Gilead, a town that has seen better days. The Sheriff, Joe Sutter (Nicholas Tarabini), gets her a job and a place to stay at the local diner, The Spitfire Grill, run by the no-nonsense Hannah Ferguson (Suzy Hunt) much to the chagrin of Hannah's nephew Caleb (MJ Sieber) as well as the local busybody Effy (Alexandria J. Henderson) who feel that this ex-con cannot be trusted. But when Hannah becomes injured, Percy, along with Caleb's wife Shelby (Mallory King) must take the Grill into their own hands to keep it going and along the way they devise a way that Hannah might finally sell the Grill in the form of a raffle.
Director Jessica Spencer and Music Director RJ Tancioco obviously have a genuine love for this piece as they've managed to infuse this barely rehearsed show (Showtunes shows usually only get about 30 hours of rehearsal) with acres of heart. And that love has infected the cast as well as they may have books in hand, but they rarely use them since it seems they've thrown their all into the show. And coupled with a lovely lighting and scenic design from Christopher Mumaw and a killer band, the town of Gilead and this touching story comes to life.
Gresham nails the feel of this young, broken woman trying to find a new life but still not able to trust. And her vocals are soul piercing. King too manages some outstanding vocals and her growth and arc through the evening are stunners as she goes from mousey wife to strong, independent woman. I can't imagine a better choice than Hunt to portray the quite layered character of Hannah. She always manages to take on these complex roles and make them shine and this is no exception. Sieber brings tons of heart to the "bad guy" of the piece. And Henderson and Tarabini beautifully round out the heart and humor of the town and lend their remarkable voices to bring in some amazing power to the sound of the show. And I must mention Fune Tautala who conveyed tons of emotion in the role of the mysterious vistor who never speaks or sings a word.
There are certainly a few reasons this one never caught fire. The lyrics tend toward repetition and the show doesn't have the cachet of recognizable name. But then, those are the types of shows Showtunes gravitates towards, the underdogs. And this underdog deserves to be heard. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Showtunes Theatre Company's production of "The Spitfire Grill" a quite emotional YAY. Yes, you'll want to bring the tissues.
"The Spitfire Grill" from Showtunes Theatre Company performs at the Cornish Playhouse through May 12th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.showtunestheatre.org.