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The Spitfire Grill
a Musical
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA MUSICAL
by James Valcq & Fred Alley based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff

COMPANY : Centerstage North Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Art Place - Mountain View
ID# 3283

SHOWING : February 13, 2009 - February 28, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

To a town with no future comes a girl with a past.

A beautiful and touching American roots musical story based upon the movie of the same title. With a soaring score drawn from America's heartland, The Spitfire Grill celebrates the passionate spirit of renewal and triumph.

Given a Critic's Star by the AJC.

Nominated by the NY Outer Critic's Circle for Best Off-Broadway Musical of 2001 Award.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Sarah Mitchell
Music Director Mandy Kirkpatrick
Joe Kelly David Carr
Percy Taylor Driskill
Shelby Katie Rouse
Hannah Kate Thompson
Caleb Chris Watson
Effie Mylane Wilson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Redemption
by Dedalus
Friday, March 13, 2009
3.5
Bias Disclaimer: I’ve often worked with CenterStage North, director Sarah Mitchell, and actor Kelly David Carr, so I may be predisposed to forgive many things in which they are involved. That being said, I had nothing to do with this particular production.

There is something about redemption, the struggle for a self to come to terms with its past, that is theatrically compelling. So much so, that even a play can find its own form of redemption, if given half a chance.

A number of years ago, I wrote about the Horizon’s Theatre’s production of “The Spitfire Grill” that it was a contrived piece of plotting filled with stereotypes and predictability. At the same time, I confessed to loving it regardless, giving it my highest rating.

In the intervening years, I’ve grown to really love its music (by James Valcq and Fred Allen). I’ve also found nuance in the script and characters that I overlooked before (though I’m still not a big fan of the original movie). As a result, I was really looking forward to this production.

To recap the plot, Percy Talbott is paroled from prison, and is seeking to find herself by losing herself in the wilds of Gilead, Wisconsin. It’s the “Colors of Paradise” evident in a Fall Foliage photograph that draws her to this backwater. Placed in the Spitfire Grill by her parole officer, Percy throws herself into the mundane day-to-day life of wintry small-town America. An offhand remark, a strange raffle, a sad story, and suddenly the residents of Gilead are seeing their town through outsiders’ eyes, seeing what they’ve been too close to recognize, and forging a new future. Along the way, Percy is able to find that spark of redemption “in that cold heart of mine,” a mother is able to find redemption in a reacceptance of a lost son, a cruel husband is able to find and recognize the independent spirit in his wife, and Gilead itself redeems itself in the eyes of its most cynical residents.

The play abandons the schmaltzy tragedy that marred the movie for me, and delivers instead an uplifting, yet uncontrived series of encounters, events, and epiphanies. Maybe I’ve mellowed in my middle-age, but I think I like this play even more now than I did several years ago.

First things first – Ms. Mitchell has assembled a tremendous cast here. They (guided by Musical Director Mandy Kirkpatrick) do full justice to this material, finding the emotional core of each song and delivering them with a gusto that is truly moving. Taylor Driskill (Percy) and Katie Rouse (Shelby) especially have beautiful belt voices that carry to the rafters (admittedly not difficult in the small Marietta Art Place venue). They also create layered characters who make their songs come alive. Kelly David Carr as Sheriff Joe Sutter has a pleasant pop-rock voice that nevertheless successfully delivers two extremely difficult numbers that eluded his Horizon counterpart The others (Kate Thompson, Mylane Wilson, and Chris Watson ) also sing well, and their voices blend nicely (this is one of best musically-directed shows I’ve seen in a while).

I also liked the design of the show, a few generic playing areas backed by the Grill itself. A black-scrim in the back carries soft-focus projections that support the songs more often than they detract. I especially liked the 4th-of-July montage that backs “When Hope Goes” and the rising sun that backs “Shine” (my favorite song in the show).

What I didn’t like were the large, bulbous head mikes that would have been more at home in a rock concert. The Art Place is SMALL venue, the cast was backed by a SMALL band, and the microphones were placed to catch every popped “P”, every costume encounter. They made the entire score sound over-projected, and carelessly mixed.

Also, although I loved the gentle side-lit and goboed look of “This Wide Woods,” I felt too much of the play was starkly white-lit from the front. A major missed opportunity happens with “Shine,” where we see the sun rising behind Percy, yet all the (white) light is coming from the front. To my designer’s eye, this number screams for an end-of-song silhouette tableau. Still and all, even with these quibbles, it all worked for me.

So, in the final analysis, this is a good play, well-acted and sung by a talented cast, and carrying a strong director’s conception that illuminates the story well. For a story I once thought contrived and clichéd, it redeems itself quite well indeed!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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