Music & lyrics by James Valcq, book & lyrics by Fred Alley
A feisty parolee follows her dreams to a small town in Wisconsin and finds a place for herself working at Hannah's Spitfire Grill. It is for sale but there are no takers for the only eatery in the depressed town, so newcomer Percy suggests to Hannah that she raffle it off. Entry fees are one hundred dollars and the best essay on why you want the grill wins. Soon, mail is arriving by the wheelbarrow full and things are definitely cookin' at the Spitfire Grill. Maine premiere!!!
"A soul satisfying ... work of theatrical resourcefulness. A compelling story that flows with grace and carries the rush of anticipation. The story moves, the characters have many dimensions and their transformations are plausible and moving. The musical is freeing. It is penetrated by honesty and it glows." - N.Y. Times
"Soulful … transcendent ... a joy ..." - N.Y. Magazine
"Soaring melodies! " - Wall Street Journal.
"An abundance of warmth, spirit and goodwill! ... Some of the most engaging and instantly infectious melodies I've heard in an original musical in some time." - USA Today.
‘Spitfire Grill’ musical delivers soul satisfaction
Maine Sunday Telegram, by April Boyle, 1/24/10
New years are about new beginnings, and the Good Theater has just the play to infuse a little hope into 2010. The theater returns from its holiday break with the Maine premiere of James Valcq and Fred Alley's musical, "The Spitfire Grill." And it's sort of a homecoming for both the story and one of its stars.
Most plays inspire movies, but Valcq and Alley based their 2001 off-Broadway play on Lee David Zlotoff's 1996 movie. The movie was set in an economically starved small Maine town. Valcq and Alley moved the story to their home state of Wisconsin, where mine closures left many towns devoid of hope. Although the Good Theater's production is still set in Wisconsin, it only seems fitting that "The Spitfire Grill" would make its way back to Maine.
Valcq and Alley have changed the ending of the story and added a phenomenal score that allows much of the dialogue to unfold in song, with stirring harmonies, soaring melodies and bluegrass-inspired instrumentation. The result is a heartwarming show.
Musical director Victoria Stubbs heads Good Theater's band on keyboard, backed by John Lawson on guitar and mandolin, production manager Stephen Underwood on keyboard and percussion and Valerie Green delivering a stand-out performance on fiddle/viola.
When Maine native Claudia Schneider, now an Equity actor in New York, heard that the Good Theater was planning to stage "The Spitfire Grill," she drove up to audition and was hired on the spot for the part of Hannah, the grill's cantankerous owner, who is still pained by the loss of her son. She delivers a gutsy performance that captures the character's iron will and underlying heart of gold.
Good Theater favorites Kelly Caufield (Percy Talbott), Todd Daley (Sheriff Joe Sutter), Timothy Bate (Caleb Thorpe), Amy Roche (Effy Krayneck) and Good Theater newcomers Kate Davis (Shelby Thorpe) and Guy Durichek (The Visitor) round out the superb cast.
The demanding role of Percy Talbott seems tailor-made for Caufield, showcasing both her vocal and acting prowess. Percy is a young woman recently paroled after serving a five-year sentence for murdering her lecherous stepfather. Despite her tragic past, she is unwilling to give up hope for a new start.
Caufield stirs the emotions with stunning vocal performances that include the comical "Out of the Frying Pan" and the heartfelt "Shine."
Musical highlights also include the harmony-packed "Ice and Snow," which features three-part vocals and percussive accompaniment by Bate, Daley and Roche. Each plays a variety of clever makeshift percussive instruments that fit the lyrics that they are singing.
The normally ethereal-voiced Bate shows off his deeper range with an all-out soulful rendition of "Digging Stone."
Ashleigh Walsh and Janet Montgomery also deserve a nod for their rustically beautiful set. Real trees line the back of the stage, with lighting by Jamie Grant glistening off the branches, as if kissed by the sunlight.
“The Spitfire Grill” lifts the soul and provides hope for a better tomorrow. Check out Good Theater’s captivating rendition.
April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
“Finding Her Voice… An ex-con, a village, an opera
Portland Phoenix, by Megan Grumbling, 1/27/10
"There is a balm in Gilead," an old African-American spiritual has it, and sure enough, Percy Talbott (Kelly Caufield) finds that balm. Her Gilead isn't a Biblical land east of the Jordan River, though; in fact, it's in '80s Wisconsin. A tough but sensitive young woman about to be released from prison, Percy has seen magazine photos of rural Gilead in its full autumn colors, and made it her destination for starting her life anew. But it turns out that Gilead and its residents could use a little renaissance themselves in The Spitfire Grill, a heartwarming and strongly sung musical directed by Brian P. Allen for Good Theater.
The first Gilead resident Percy meets is her new parole officer, Sheriff Joe Sutter (Todd Daley, charmingly), who can't imagine why she's chosen his dull town. He brings her in to the Spitfire Grill to meet her new boss, the tough old widow who owns it, Hannah (visiting Equity actress Claudia Schneider, with great spunk and tang). After the requisite trial-by-fire of gossip, particularly by the town gabber Effy (Amy Roche, saucily), Percy makes friends with a shy neighbor who helps out at the Grill, Shelby (Kate Davis, a sweetly charismatic presence), who has a troubled husband (Timothy Bate, with mighty voice and very convincing vulnerability). Percy also becomes close to Hannah, who as it turns out has some hurts of her own.
I've called Spitfire a musical, but it might be more accurately described as an opera in the American idiom: Much more of the story and dialogue is sung, in styles ranging from bluegrass and country to gospel, than in your typical Broadway musical. If you're not partial to song, this play is probably not for you. But those who appreciate a good harmony, as well as the uplift and lyric simplicity of the American songbook, will take pleasure in Good Theater's exuberant production. Victoria Stubbs directs a fine live band that includes mandolin and violin, and in the lead role Caufield is marvelous. Her voice is powerful and expressive, and her characterization of Percy is sharp and endearing. She leads an excellent cast, one whose voices are stirring and whose portrayals of their small-town Wisconsin characters are bright and appealing.
These characters struggle along under the dual pleasures and difficulties of small-town rural life, and Stephen Underwood's elegant set design evokes their setting well: We see on stage not just Gilead's homey warmth, in the reassuringly sturdy wood furnishings of the Grill, but also its stark, sometimes cold beauty, in a stand of birches at the back of the stage.
The trees beautifully catch and throw the ever-changing light (gorgeous light design is by Jamie Grant) of Gilead's seasons. In the same manner, the Good Theater's production tenderly reveals the progress of a town's redemption, as its folks find that the real balm is in each other.
Percy – Kelly Caufield
Hannah – Claudia Schneider*
Shelby – Kate Davis
Effy – Amy Roche
Joe – Todd Daley
Caleb – Tim Bate
Mysterious Man – Guy Durichek
Director – Brian P. Allen
Choreographer/Assistant Director – Tyler Sperry
Musical Director – Victoria Stubbs
Set Design – Stephen Underwood
Lighting Design – Jamie Grant
Costumes – Justin Cote
Production Stage Manager – Joshua Hurd
Tech Director – Stephen Underwood
Assistant Tech Director – Craig Robinson
Musicians – Victoria Stubbs, Bill Manning
Scenic Painting – Janet Montgomery, Ashleigh Walsh
* Member Actors' Equity Association