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Theater Review: "The Spitfire Grill: A Musical"

Aurora Florence, Devlin & Meghan Andrews in “The Spitfire Grill."
Photo credit:
Aaron Rumley

I love surprises. I thought “The Spitfire Grill” would be just another yee-haw country/western musicale about life in a small town. I’m happy to report that it’s a lot more than that.

Based on the 1996 film starring Alison Elliott, Ellen Burstyn and Marcia Gay Harden and set to music by James Valcq and Fred Alley, this is a show about life, love and second chances.

In front of Aaron Rumley’s huge stage-wide map projection of Wisconsin (if you didn’t know how to spell it, you’ll learn here), Percy Talbott (Aurora Florence, a new and most welcome local presence) is released from a five-year prison sentence to small-town Gilead, where Sheriff Joe Sutter (Kevin Earley) introduces her to Hannah Ferguson (Devlin), owner of the Spitfire Grill. Hannah doesn’t think she needs help, but takes Percy on anyway.

Percy is understandably uncertain, even a bit frightened after five years in the clink. But she’s spunky and determined to make a new start.

When Hannah is temporarily sidelined by a fall, Percy is elevated to kitchen duty. Unfortunately, she can’t cook. Luckily, unhappy local wife Shelby Thorpe (Meghan Andrews) volunteers to help out as well, much to the disgust of controlling husband Caleb (Kevin Bailey).

Percy meets the local gang, including postmistress/busybody Effy Krayneck, who likes to call friends with comments like these lyrics: “I hear people talk all over town; I thought that you should know” – followed by some scurrilous (though imaginary) information. Friends like this you don’t need, but Maggie Carney makes the role eminently watchable.

Jeffrey B. Moss directs “The Spitfire Grill,” already extended through July 2 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

Moss has a terrific cast of singing actors for this woman-centered show, anchored by Florence, whose powerful mezzo voice is well matched by joined  Devlin’s strong, warm alto and Andrews’ lovely soprano.

Kevin Earley’s sunny tenor voice as Sheriff Joe melds nicely with the women, and Bailey (remembered for his two-year stint as the grouchy Grinch at the Old Globe) impresses as the only negative presence – the depressed Caleb, still smarting after the closure of the local quarry where he worked.

Matt Thompson rounds out the cast as a non-singing mysterious presence. 

Marty Burnett’s set is simple but functional, consisting mostly of movable props – a table, a few chairs, and a scrim behind which the four fine musicians sit.

Matt Novotny’s lighting, Elisa Benzoni’s costumes and Chad Lee Thymes’ sound design do what’s needed as well.

The fact that the second act brings some less-than-credible plot twists, “The Spitfire Grill” is a wonderful show and one of the best musicals mounted this season. 

The details

“The Spitfire Grill” plays through July 2, 2017 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

When: 7 pm Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org