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From screen to stage plus music

Tom Titus

Many Laguna theatergoers will remember the 1996 movie “The

Spitfire Grill,” which earned Ellen Burstyn an Academy Award

nomination. They’ll get a chance to see that story live this month --

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and set to music.

The Laguna Playhouse opens the West Coast premiere of this

award-winning new musical Saturday, and enthusiasm is running high.

“It’s a story of redemption and lost lives reclaimed,” says its

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director, Nick DeGruccio. “A recurring theme of rebirth and healing.”

The rebirth is the effect of the restaurant of the title, situated

in the sleepy town of Gilead, Wis., on Percy Talbot, a young girl

with a shady past who is taken under the wing of the grill’s owner,

Hanna Ferguson (the Burstyn role).

Not everyone welcomes Percy. They seek to discover her secrets

even as they conceal their own.

Teamed with Hannah and Shelby, the wife of Hannah’s nephew, the

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three women overcome the naysayers and transform the grill, stirring

new life in the community.

“I believe that it has a universal message for all,” DeGruccio

says.

“Everyone has something hidden in their past that they would like

to ‘wash clean’ with light ... or know a time when we wanted to start

new, clean and clear,” he says.

The musical version was created by James Valcq, who wrote the book

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with lyricist Fred Alley and composed the music and arranged the

orchestration.

For Alley, the show hits close to home -- he was the co-founder of

the American Folklore Theater in Door County, Wis.

Director DeGruccio is an actor with Broadway and national tour

credits who’s resident director of the colony Theater in Burbank.

He’s feeling right at home in Laguna where, he says, “The staff at

the Laguna Playhouse has been equally awesome and supportive and will

help to make this project soar.”

As for his performers, DeGruccio comments, “The cast we have

assembled is amazing. Not only are they great vocalists, but they

embody the essence of these characters to a great degree.”

The cast of “The Spitfire Grill” consists of Mark Aaron, Misty

Cotton, Kevin Earley, Kim Huber, Linda Kerns, Michael Piontek and

Jomarie Ward.

“As a director, the material has offered a chance for me to grow

and explore the complexities of these characters and their music,”

DeGruccio says.

“Working with Tom Griffin, my musical director, we have enjoyed

the challenge of working on a musical where there are darker, complex

qualities within its story and relationships,” he says. “The score

itself offers a great acoustic, country sound with very memorable

songs. It’s truly a little gem of a musical.”

Also exhilarating for the director and his cast is that “The

Spitfire Grill” in its musical incarnation will be brand new to

Laguna audiences.

“Being a new musical, it is equally exciting to work on material

that no one has ever seen before on the West Coast,” DeGruccio says.

“I look forward to the reactions of the audience as they follow

the story of Percy and her quest for healing,” he says.

* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.


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