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Finding the fire in a small-town musical
‘Spitfire Grill’ shows anyone can change for the better
by MATTHEW NASH
In small towns, there’s plenty going on below the surface among customers and staff at hometown eateries.
That’s the case at the Spitfire Grill in Gilead, Wis.
The fictitious restaurant is the stomping ground for troublemaker Percy Talbott, played by Cat Orsborn, and the center of Olympic Theatre Arts’ new musical, playing Feb. 1-19.
After a prison sentence, Percy finds herself in Gilead working at the grill.
“Percy is a woman who had some real hard times. She’s enigmatic,” Orsborn said. “She tries to be so hard and in control of herself because that’s how she’s had to be. At the same time, she has a soft undertone that she doesn’t let anyone see.”
Director Lee Harwell said the play’s focus is on starting over and that some people can become jaded, for example, living in Washington and seeing the sights daily.
“I read the script and started becoming more appreciative of small things,” he said. “This play is about rebirth of a little town and the people and their surroundings.”
Since 2001, “The Spitfire Grill,” based on a 1996 film, has become one of the most often-produced new American musicals with more than 350 productions.
Harwell said one critical difference between the film and play is tone. The film ends tragically whereas the musical finishes on an uplifting note.
“It’s about renewal and about appreciating what you have taken for granted most of your life,” Harwell said. “It introduces characters one at a time and gives them an opportunity to endear themselves to the audience.”
Percy’s personal journey begins to change the whole town throughout the play, including grill owner Hannah, played by Win Perman.
“She sees strength beyond her years,” Perman said about her character. “She’s a tough old cob but youthful and very bitter from the beginning. But there’s an incredible transition throughout the play.”
Alaynna Little, who plays Shelby, a meek, passive wife, said her character changes a lot because of her friendship with Percy.
“People like (Shelby). She is compassionate and understanding and everyone wants or needs someone like that,” Little said. “She learns to stand up for herself.”
Little said “Spitfire Grill” is her first musical and that people should find it fun.
“So much happens in this play that every viewer could take away something different from this,” she said. “It leaves you with a hopeful feeling,”
When considering plays for this year, Harwell said he submitted “Spitfire Grill” because he fell in love with the music, a folk and bluegrass-influenced score.
“The music is so rich,” he said. “When I submit a show, I try to reach the widest audience. This (musical) could take place in the North Olympic Peninsula.”
“I can honestly say that if you see only one live-action presentation this year, this is the one,” Harwell said. “The cast has made it absolutely amazing.”