By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Theatre Palisades patrons will be repeating that catchy phrase for days after seeing the musical adaptation of the 1996 movie (starring Ellen Burstyn and directed by Lee David Zlotoff) that James Valcq and Fred Alley later cleverly converted to the stage) premiering Off-Broadway in 2001.
“The Spitfire Grill” debuted Friday at Pierson Playhouse under the direction of Lewis Hauser and the musical direction of Brian Murphy and is it is full of memorable numbers like “Out of the Frying Pan,” “The Colors of Paradise,” “This Wide Woods,” “Forgotten Lullaby,” “Forest from the Trees” and “Wild Bird.”
Set in Gilead, Wisconsin in the 1990s and divided into two acts, the story takes place over a span of 10 months and centers around Percy Talbott (Alyssa Rupert), a feisty parolee looking for a fresh start who finds herself working at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill (the small town’s only eatery), which has long been for sale. Percy suggests that the widowed owner Hannah Ferguson (Joanna Churgin in her Theatre Palisades role) raffle it off by holding a $100-per-entry essay contest. Soon mail is arriving by the truckload, every letter delivered by the witty and gossipy Effy Krayneck (Susan Stangl, Theatre Palisades’ resident sound designer and boardmember), who declares: “If you’ve got the thread, you’ll find the needle.”
Enhanced by a score that mixes country, bluegrass and pop, the plot thickens when Sheriff Joe Sutter (Ross Chitwood, music director at Community United Methodist Church) becomes smitten with Percy and Hannah’s overly-protective nephew Caleb Thorpe (Terry Delegeane) objects to his wife Shelby (Darcy Silveira) working at the Spitfire and befriending Percy. The story is further enhanced by the mystery surrounding “the visitor” (Phil Apoian, who appeared recently at Theatre Palisades in Black Coffee and The Diary of Anne Franke), who doesn’t speak a line yet triggers powerful emotions from each of the other characters, ranging from anger and resentment to sadness and pity.
Shelby’s “When Hope Goes,” Caleb’s “Digging Stone” and Hannah’s “Way Back Home” are memorable performances.
This rousing narrative of change, hope and love is made more believable through creative sets and lighting by Sherman Wayne and William Pritcher, costume designs by June Lissandrello, scenic artist Joanne Reich and the production of Shirley Churgin and Sylvia Grieb.
“The Spitfire Grill” will be staged Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. (adults $25, students and seniors $23) through July 10 at Pierson Playhouse.
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