Saturday, August 30, 2014

THE SPITFIRE GRILL • Insight Theatre Company

Insight continues its season with a musical based on the 1996 film of the same name -- a folksy, simple little tale of hope, set in rural Wisconsin.

Newly released from prison, Percy (full name, Perchance and played by Sam Auch) is drawn to the small fictional town of Gilead after seeing a photo of their Autumn colors in a magazine. The local Sheriff is Percy's parole officer, a bachelor named Joe Sutter (Pete Winfrey), and he wonders why anyone would want to come to this depressed, broke little town. Gilead may be picturesque in photos, but it's pretty dreary when you live there. The Sheriff helps her get a job at the one restaurant in town, the Spitfire Grill, where Percy meets its surly owner, widow Hannah Ferguson (Janet Wells) who, getting on in years, reluctantly agrees to take Percy on to help out at the diner. Hannah's been trying to sell the grill for years, but there haven't been any takers. Percy and her new buddy Shelby (Jenni Ryan) come up with an idea about raffling off the grill to the person who can write the best essay on why they'd like to own it, which annoys the local busybody, Effy the postmistress, (Amy Loui) and Shelby's asshole husband, Caleb (Troy Turnipseed), once the hundreds of letters start to roll in. A few secrets of the residents come to light over the course of the show, and the musical ends sweetly, though predictably, as the content of these letters, full of hope and heartbreak, spur the townsfolk to reexamine their own outlooks on life.

Jenni Ryan (Shelby Thorpe)
and Sam Auch (Percy Talbott).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Maggie Ryan directs with an even pace, and Auch maintains a strong, understated and reliable center as Percy, and her character's growing relationship with Winfrey's sincerely appealing Sheriff works nicely. Along with Jenni Ryan's amiable and put-upon Shelby, these three, with clear voices, handle James Valcq's score with the most skill. Loui adds a welcome comedic spark to Effy, the nosy town gossip, and Turnipseed is convincing in the domineering role of Caleb who has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. Wells is good as the stern Hannah, who harbors her own secrets, and Paul Balfe rounds out the cast as "the visitor". Some standout out numbers include Auch's "A Ring Around the Moon" that opens the show, "Ice and Snow", and the act one closer "Shoot the Moon". The orchestra under Catherine Kopff's musical direction is solid and Kyra Bishop's beautifully authentic scenic design is lit by Jeff Behm, with costume design by Tracy Newcomb and sweet but subtle sound design by Kyle Meadors.

Pete Winfrey (Sheriff Joe Sutter)
and Sam Auch (Percy Talbott).
Photo credit: John Lamb
You've got until tomorrow to check out this unpretentious, homespun musical. As musicals go, "The Spitfire Grill" may be a little on the hokey side, but about halfway through, you almost can't help but find yourself settling into this cozy, slice-of-life story.


Book/lyrics by Fred Alley
Music/ book by James Valcq
Directed by Maggie Ryan
Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave.
through August 31 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Janet Wells (Hannah Ferguson), Troy Turnipseed (Caleb Thorpe)
and Jenni Ryan (Shelby Thorpe).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Sam Auch (Percy Talbott), Janet Wells* (Hannah Ferguson), Jenni Ryan (Shelby Thorpe), Troy Turnipseed (Caleb Thorpe), Pete Winfrey (Sheriff Joe Sutter), Amy Loui* (Effy Krayneck) and Paul Balfe (The Visitor).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Jeff Behm; sound design by Kyle Meadors; costume design by Tracy Newcomb; musical direction by Catherine Kopff; properties by Jacob Wilson; stage manager, Roger Tackette.

Amy Loui (Effy Krayneck)
and Janet Wells (Hannah Ferguson).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Conductor/piano, Catherine Kopff; guitar/mandolin, D. Mike Bauer; cello, Marcia Mann; accordion, Mary Ann Schulte; violin, Adrian Walker.

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