DU Department of Theatre’s first mainstage show of Winter Quarter ran from Feb. 8 to Feb. 12, with sold-out shows each day. “The Spitfire Grill” was a musical with a cast of only seven talented students, but they had an army behind them to put on an uplifting, complex and enjoyable performance.
“The Spitfire Grill” tells the story of a woman leaving prison after five years and travelling to the small, bleak town of Gilead, Wisconsin, to start anew. There, the woman, Percy Talbott (Annaleisa Friednash, junior), finds a job at The Spitfire Grill, the only cafe in town, run by widow Hannah Ferguson (Hannah Chapple, sophomore). Percy soon becomes the talk of the town as regulars to the cafe, like Hannah’s nephew Caleb Thorpe (Kevin Douglas, freshman), his wife Shelby Thorpe (Nicole Seefried, senior), local gossip Effy Krayneck (Kaitlin Howard, sophomore) and Sheriff Joe Sutter (Tristan Andersen, junior) begin to learn about Percy’s mysterious past. Percy works through it, though, trying to prove herself by helping run The Spitfire Grill while Hannah is injured.
Between her injury and trying to leave behind painful memories of her late husband and lost son, Hannah wants nothing more than to sell the grill and move on. With no takers, Percy and Shelby come up with the idea to hold a raffle to give away The Spitfire Grill; with $100 and an essay, anyone gets a chance at owning the quaint cafe in Gilead. As months pass and entries begin to flood in, the characters must determine a raffle winner while navigating their relationships with one another and their purposes in Gilead.
The story of “The Spitfire Grill” is based on the 1996 Lee David Zlotoff film of the same name. It became an Off-Broadway musical in 2001, with music, lyrics and books by James Valcq and Fred Alley. It features songs like “A Ring Around the Moon,” “The Colors of Paradise,” “Shoot the Moon” and “Come Alive Again,” with refreshing notes of country and bluegrass that contrast the expectations that accompany Broadway-style musicals.
“The Spitfire Grill” was a musical that highlighted the vocal talents of the few cast members, particularly Andersen and Friednash. Each performer impressed, filling the small, intimate performance space with song, and since there were only seven of them, the audience got to experience them all individually.
“One of my favorite things was that it was such a small cast. When there is such a small group, it feels like we really get to know each other and get on the same page, which is the best,” said Seefried.
Much of the music was nice and heartfelt, but other than catchy songs, the somewhat predictable and muddled storyline left something to be desired. Scarce moments of humor felt out of place among the darkness of the characters’ pasts (Percy’s involved rape and murder) yet so natural amidst the heartwarming joy of other moments. These joyful and wholesome scenes were the most believable and lent great connections between the characters and the audience.
The cast also felt somewhat limited by a small performance space, forced to face the audience and move in restricted ways across the wide and short stage. That said, the set was detailed and appealing, contributing to the mood and plot of “The Spitfire Grill.”
Overall, the show—under the direction of Matthew S. Rumsey who is a former American Musical and Dramatic Academy student and current Lamont School of Music student—was certainly worth watching. It was an impressive feat considering the short amount of rehearsal time available this quarter.
“Especially being a musical, there was so much to get done in not a ton of time, so it was really fast, but I think we managed to pull it off!” Seefried said.