By Beki Pineda; Image: Vintage Theatre Productions
THE SPITFIRE GRILL. Written by James Valcq and Fred Alley; directed by Bev Newcomb-Madden; musical direction by Trent Hines. Produced by Vintage Theatre Productions (1468 Dayton St., Aurora) through Aug. 16. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or vintagetheatre.org.
THE SPITFIRE GRILL is based loosely on a film by Lee David Zlotoff about a woman who decides to pass on her restaurant by means of a raffle in which participants send a $100 entry fee and write an essay telling why they want to win a restaurant in a one-horse town in Maine. The musical moves the restaurant to Wisconsin and changes the unhappy ending. It mixes in the redemption stories of a parolee looking for a new life and a mystery man in the woods looking for an old life.
THE SPITFIRE GRILL will probably not go down in the annals of Great American Musicals, but it is a charming look at small-town Americana and has a nice, folksy bluegrass score. This production is enhanced by the glorious voice and talent of Megan Van De Hay (who could be working in New York, but, thank God, chooses to remain in Denver), the handsome Mark Lively, and the spunky personality of Anne Oberbroeckling. The story is told through the eyes of Percy (Van De Hay), the recently released parolee haunted by her past life and longing for the peace of isolation. She chooses the small town of Gilead on the basis of a picture in a travel magazine. Her parole officer is the good-looking (and instantly smitten) Sheriff Joe (Lively), who finds her a job at the Spitfire, the only restaurant in town. The grill is owned by Hannah (Oberbroeckling), who is beginning to feel her age and wants to unload the place. Her son Caleb (Tom Auclair) has had no luck in selling it, so the raffle option comes forward. The cast is rounded out by Kelly Watts as Caleb's wife, Shelby, who also pitches in at the grill; Nancy Van Fleet as the postmistress and town gossip; and Clint Heyn as the mystery man in the forest.
As a former denizen of a small town (I grew up in a village of 1,800 people), I can vouch that the quiet life and the appreciation of nature were accurately portrayed, as well as the lack of privacy. Everybody knows your businesssometimes even before you do. This is expressed in a song where the town's residents wonder if "Something's Cooking" down at the Spitfire Grill. Shelby and Percy share their love of the town in "The Colors of Paradise" as they write the ad that will entice others to want to live there too.
By necessity in the small theater at Vintage, the set is wide and shallow and anchored by the three-piece musical group at the east end. My recommendation is to sit as close to center or the west side as possible. From my seat on the side near the band, it was sometimes difficult to make out the lyrics of the songs. The set is nicely presented and authentically a restaurant. The lighting design by Jennifer Orf is especially noteworthy in this production. Megan has a song extolling the beauty of the morning sun; we watch as it gradually rises across her face and lights the scene.
An altogether pleasant evening at the theater.
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