Semester opens with ‘Spitfire Grill’

Tess Marshall, Erin Long, and Beth Neault (from left to right) in this weekend's production of "The Spitfire Grill," in Glaize Studio Theatre in OBT.

Tess Marshall, Erin Long, and Beth Neault (from left to right) in this weekend’s production of “The Spitfire Grill,” in Glaize Studio Theatre in OBT.

Caroline Madden, Contributing Doah Staff Writer
January 23, 2013

Shenandoah Conservatory’s production of “The Spitfire Grill,” directed by Wade Fransen, played at the Glaize Studio Theater this past weekend. The show ran from Thursday, Jan. 17, to Sunday, Jan. 20.

“The Spitfire Grill” is a simple, sweet, but strongly moving musical that tells the story of a young woman named Percy, just released from prison, who decides to start over her life in the small town of Gilead, Wis. Following her arrival, she ends up changing the small town in a way that no one expected. Written by James Val and Fred Alley, the show is based off of the film by the same name.

The music features a mix of bluegrass, country and Broadway-style pop ballads, with compelling and heartfelt lyrics. It is not your typical song and dance musical; it instead feels more like a film where the characters just happen to occasionally sing. The cast had an exceptional mix of acting skills and vocal talent. They all effectively brought to life these intriguing characters, such as the hard working Caleb, played by Zac Ostrowski, or the painfully shy Shelby, played by Tess Marshall.

The musical also offers a refreshing view of realistic female characters not typically seen in the world of musical theatre. Hannah, played by Beth Neault, has a gruff exterior but a kind heart inside. And lead character Percy, portrayed by Erin Long, is a hardened character with a dark past. Long makes specific and wonderful choices that don’t make her character a stereotype, but instead a character with many layers.

There are no outright villains. All of the characters come off as real people just trying their best to make the choices they believe to be right. They all had a sense of mystery, with many of their secrets and questions not being answered until the end.

It is rare that you see a musical that is so quiet, yet it is this quietness that makes it so powerful. Through the directing of Fransen in the small Glaize Theatre, the staging is set up to amplify the sense of intimacy.

“The Spitfire Grill” has a small setting, but a very big heart. The story and music is very touching. The production gave us a true showcase of exceptional acting talent combined with superb vocal abilities.

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