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 --
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
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
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
“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
with lyricist Fred Alley and composed the music and arranged the
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
“As a director, the material has offered a chance for me to grow
and explore the complexities of these characters and their music,”
“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
“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.