Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Spitfire Grill"

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entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"The Spitfire Grill"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at Roger Williams University Theatre is "The Spitfire Grill", a musical with music and book by James Valcq, lyrics and book by Fred Alley and is based on the recent film by Lee David Ziotoff. The show takes place in rural Wisconsin in the town of Gilead and tells the story in musical format of a feisty parolee, Percy Talbott who follows a dream, based on a page from an old travel book. It promises autumn colors in the Copper Creek. She arrives in town and Sheriff Joe Sutter brings her through the streets to a ramshackle diner called The Spitfire Grill run by a crusty old widow, Hannah Ferguson who has a bad hip and a sharp tongue. Joe persuades Hannah to give her work as a waitress. Percy sets to work in a swirl of small town suspicions led by Effy, the postmistress who's also the village busybody. Hannah trips on the stairs and breaks her leg and she asks Percy to run it for her. Hannah does so against the wishes of her overly protective nephew, Caleb. Percy is joined at the Spitfire by Caleb's wife Shelby an excellent cook. Hannah asks Percy to leave a loaf of bread outside near a stump at the back of the Grill. It is picked up by a stranger who has a secret past in Gilead. The Grill is for sale because Hannah wishes to escape painful memories of the past, so Percy suggests Hannah raffle it off for a hundred dollars per entry and an essay about why they want the Grill. Soon the mail is arriving by the bagfuls and things are definitely cooking at the Spitfire Grill. Directed wonderfully by Stephanie Dean and musically directed beautifully by Vaughn Bryner who plays keyboards with his 4 piece orchestra, this 7 member college age cast is lead by Casey Mandel, a fantastic spitfire actress and vocalist who knocks your socks off with her heartwarming portrayal and stunning voice.

Stephanie obtains stunning performance from her cast. "The Spitfire Grill" is one of the most poignant musical with its warm charming score and storyline about redemption. The new girl in town brings redemption to the other characters by her longing for a place like Gilead that is removed from the outside world and its corruption. The melodies of the songs are infectious and soar in their delivery with heartstring tugging lyrics. It is totally charming from start to finish and the cast is lead by Casey, a gorgeous brunette. This show is part of her Senior Acting Project and she should pass with flying colors! She handles the transition from hard-bitten parolee to compassionate, caring friend, finally falling in love superbly. Her voice and appearance are ethereal as she terrifically sings all her solos. "A Ring Around the Moon" when she arrives in "Gilead, "Out of the Frying Pan" when she admits she can't cook which is hilarious, a tear-jerking moment comes during the duet "This Wide Woods" when she starts to have feelings for Joe and "Shine" when she discovers who the visitor really is. Another poignant moment is when Percy tells Hannah that she knows what it's like to lose a child, too. Rebecca Murphy, another pretty brunette with a gorgeous soprano voice, sings many touching ballads including "When Hope Goes" about when her childhood hero, Eli who was Hannah's son, went off to the Vietnam War, became MIA, changing the town forever, and "Wild Bird" where she consoles Percy about Percy's sad and tragic past. This scene makes the tears flow freely from the audience at Casey and Rebecca's acting prowess. Caitlin Kraft, a pretty blonde, grays her hair as Hannah in this show. She walks and talks like a much older woman and sounds like Mrs. Lovett in her first group number Something's Cooking". (I reviewed Caitlin in "Machinal" which she did as her senior acting project last November.) Caitlin sings "Forgotten Lullaby" when a sad essay stirs up Hannah's old wounds and "Way Back Home" when she asks the stranger to come and meet her at the diner. She also leads the cast in two happy songs. The first is "Shoot the Moon" where multitudes of essays and money show up and the second is "Come Alive Again" when Hannah and the girls drink some applejack and realize that a magical shift not only takes place in the grill but all over the town, too.

Justin Shrair plays Joe Sutter, the sheriff who eventually falls in love with Percy. The sheriff is strict with her at first but she captures his heart as he begins to know the real person beneath the hard shell. Justin shows off his topnotch singing voice in "This Wide Woods" where he tells about his dissatisfaction with how the trees were all cut down, destroying life in Gilead and also how he longs to leave town. "Forest for the Trees" where he obtained 10 acres of land from his father, decides to stay in town and marry her and build a house for Percy and himself to live in. Justin delivers a winning portrayal as the character. Peter Arsenault plays Caleb, the hotheaded husband of Shelby who is always bossing her around. He does a great job in this role and shows off his voice in "Digging Stone" where he has been without a job since the quarry closed down. Caleb turns against a world where it is no longer enough to be a working man. Hilliary Nadworny, a cute red head plays Effy, the comic relief in the show, having many funny one liners and she makes them all count. She shows off her soprano voice in many numbers including the trio "Ice and Snow" and the group numbers including "Something's Cooking at the Spitfire Grill" and finale. Rounding out the cast is Christopher O'Brien as the Visitor who gives the role heart and soul in his sympathetic portrayal. The unit set is by Dorissa Boggs who also designed the lighting with costumes by Priscilla Eighme So for a wonderful musical treat, be sure to catch "The Spitfire Grill" at RWU Theatre.

"The Spitfire Grill" (26 February - 6 March)
ROGER WILLIAMS UNIVERSITY THEATRE
@ Performing Arts Center, 1 Old Ferry Road, BRISTOL RI
1(401)254-3626

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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