L to R: Shelby (Autumn Gieb), Percy (Jade Diaz) and Joe (Phillip Alvarez)
Percy (Jade Diaz) and Joe (Phillip Alvarez)
L to R: (Phillip Alvarez), Effy (Karen Caroe) and Percy (Jade Diaz)
L to R: Percy (Jade Diaz)and Shelby (Autumn Gieb)
L to R: Hannah (Virginia Ostendorf) and Caleb (Shaun Hadfield)
L to R: Percy (Jade Diaz)and The Visitor (Bob Singer)
Apr 08-Apr 24, 2011
No Strings Theatre Company presents The Spitfire Grill, directed by Nikka Ziemer, running April 8 through April 24 at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N Downtown Mall in Las Cruces. Music and Book are by James Valcq, Lyrics and Book are by Fred Alley and it is based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff. The musical is about a feisty parolee, Percy, who follows her dreams, based on a page from an old travel book, to a mythical small town named Gilead in Wisconsin and finds a place for herself working at Hannah's Spitfire Grill. It is for sale but there are no takers for the only eatery in the depressed town. Percy suggests to Hannah that she raffle it off. Entry fees are one hundred dollars and the best essay on why you want the grill wins. Soon, mail is arriving by the sackful and things are definitely cookin' at the Spitfire Grill.
"The Spitfire Grill" started life as a film in 1996. A surprise hit, it won the Audience's Choice award at the Sundance Film Festival that year. Despite excellent performances by Ellen Burstyn as Hannah and Allison Elliott as Percy, the film was entertaining but considered a classic and predictable redemption story and many critics labeled it a "tear jerker".
In the stage version, James Valcq, the composer, and Fred Alley, the lyricist, who collaborated on the book, make it clear that rebirth is not a matter of ritual but is instead a matter of human connection. In contract to the critical response to the film, the New York Times review of the 2000 stage production said as a musical, it was "a complete work of theatrical resourcefulness. A compelling story is put together, bit by bit. Character is developed, detail by detail, so that real people emerge. And what the story is all about is a belief system rooted in earthly caring. "The Spitfire Grill'' is not easy to categorize. The warm, indigenous American folk sound of Mr. Valcq's score is, harmonically and melodically, as theatrical as it is grassroots. On first hearing, Mr. Alley's lyrics touch a deeper chord, accomplishing the considerable feat of poetically offering inspiration while holding the syrup.
Upon reading the script prior to proposing it as a project for NSTC, director Nikka Ziemer was drawn to the very real heartaches and the equally real possibility of transformation and healing. The character of Percy breathes life back into the quiet town, helps those around her find independence from the old wounds that they carry and find worth in what they had long considered worthless.
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|Music & Book By|
|Scenic And Lighting Designer|
Nourishment for the soul at 'Spitfire Grill'
Black Box Theatre hosts enriching performance
- By Gerald M. Kane, Las Cruces Bulletin
For years, I have admired the biting and witty theater criticism of John Simon, formerly of New York Magazine.
In preparation for attending the opening night performance of the current Black Box Theatre production, "The Spitfire Grill," I read his review of the 2001 Playwrights Horizon production of "The Spitfire Grill" in New York. His words stopped me cold.
"'The Spitfire Grill' is soulful and transcendent, containing amiable country-flavored tunes," Simon wrote. "It is not often that material moves me to tears, but this was one of those occasions. What even in normal times would be a joy is, in these troubled ones, sheer nourishment."
That's a good enough recommendation for me - and should be for you to call the Black Box Theatre immediately to ensure that you will not miss out on seeing this outstanding, intimate work of musical theater.
Simon was joined in his praise by most New York critics. "Spitfire" has garnered numerous theater awards and has enjoyed more than 350 productions, pleasing audiences from one coast to the other as well as countries around the globe.
"The Spitfire Grill" provides audiences with an opportunity to visualize a world in which healing and comfort can take place despite forces which try to destroy the peace of mind and spirit so many of us seek.
The musical is based on the moderately successful 1996 film of the same name, which in itself is reminiscent of themes in other films in which independent, strong-willed women overcome the boulders thrown in their paths. Films such as "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Heavy" come to mind.
"The Spitfire Grill" enriches and deepens the story much more than its source, with the addition of the music and lyrics by James Valcq and Fred Alley, who also re-wrote the somber ending of the film and made the musical more upbeat.
Some might argue that the musical ties up its many loose ends in too neat a package by play's end, but in a world so in need of hope, healing and light, why quibble?
The current production at the Black Box Theatre boasts a dedicated and talented cast.
Most notably it features the musical talents of Autumn Gieb, Jade Diaz and Virginia Ostendorf. The entire cast sings their souls out, most ably assisted by musicians Karen and Tom Warren.
Nikka Ziemer's direction is thoughtful and nuanced. As always, Peter Herman's scenic and lighting design fills the bill, although I would have preferred to see the 20-year aging of the restaurant spoken about throughout the show. The walls looked all too pristine for me.
The story focuses on the arrival of Percy Talbott, a winsome young woman newly released from prison in the small Wisconsin town of Gilead. Why was she imprisoned?
What are her dreams and hopes? All answers are revealed by the show's end.
Percy, with help from the town sheriff, finds work at the Spitfire Grill, the town's only restaurant, managed by crusty Hannah Ferguson (who has her own secrets and longings), and becomes the catalyst for others in town, most particularly Shelby, Hannah's chauvin-istic nephew's wife, to re-examine their lives and determine how to treasure each day and the beauty that surrounds them.
"The Spitfire Grill" is a special show that lives up to the standards that Ceil and Peter Herman have established at the Black Box Theatre over the past decade. I recommend it to you without reservations (which I would make quickly!).
"The Spitfire Grill" runs through Sunday, April 24, at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St. Performances are at 8 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday performances are scheduled at 2:30 p.m. April 17 and 24.
The performances will be at 7 p.m Wednesday, April 20, and Thursday, April 21. Tickets are $10 regular admission and $9 for students and seniors over 65. All seats on Wednesday and Thursday are $7. For reservations, call 523-1223 or visit www.no-strings.org.
No seating plan has been posted.