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‘Spitfire Grill’ serves up rich drama

Tom Titus

Stage musicals have been born on the silver screen occasionally --

“Some Like It Hot” produced “Sugar,” “All About Eve” begat

“Applause,” and “The Apartment” was converted into “Promises,

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Promises.” It’s the infrequent reversal of the frequent process.

The latest example of a musical play being drawn from a movie is

“The Spitfire Grill,” which is having its West Coast premiere at the

Laguna Playhouse. It celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit

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and its ability to overcome the steepest of odds.

In this compelling production, directed and choreographed by Nick

DeGruccio, vocal and dramatic strength entwine in a moving, memorable

evening set in the only restaurant in the backwoods hamlet of Gilead,

Wis. Here, a young woman just released from a five-year prison term

arrives to start a new life and finds the locals’ welcome as frosty

as the region’s winter.

It takes some major concessions on both sides to warm the

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atmosphere, and these are achieved via some strong performances and

exceptionally powerful singing. The Laguna Orchestra, under the baton

of Tom Griffin, sets a commanding musical tempo to underscore

portrayals on stage.

Misty Cotton, playing the feisty ex-con who signs on as a

waitress/short order cook at the Spitfire, renders an exceptional

performance, dramatically and vocally. Cotton projects an indomitable

spirit and a winning warmth beneath her steely facade that gradually

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melts the heart of the sternest adversary. A scene in which she

tackles all the kitchen chores single-handedly is reminiscent of an

“I Love Lucy” episode.

As the gruff, demanding proprietress of the Spitfire Grill,

Jomarie Ward establishes an even sterner character, guarding her

personal secret with grim determination. Ward’s transition to a

sunnier disposition as she manages the mail-in campaign to raffle off

her restaurant is a treat to watch.

Kim Huber is delightful as the browbeaten young wife who aligns

with Cotton as a fellow waitress and confidante, defying her proud

but powerless husband, played with an ominous macho demeanor by

Michael Piontek. Kevin Earley turns in a winning performance as the

local sheriff who serves as Cotton’s parole officer and who, perhaps,

could fill a more important role in her life.

The town postmistress, a busybody of the first magnitude, is given

a splendidly sour rendition by Linda Kerns, whose vehement opposition

to Cotton’s presence eventually warms to a spirited alliance. Mark

Aaron completes the cast in a wordless role as the “visitor,” who

holds the key to the show’s most perplexing riddle.

Raymond Kent’s richly designed setting -- complete with a change

of the seasons -- offers a beautiful scenic backdrop, and Paulie

Jenkins has created some splendidly individual lighting effects that

define the show’s various staging areas. Costumes, by Dwight Richard

Odle, fit the rural ambience perfectly.

In adapting the movie to the stage, James Valcq and the late Fred

Alley deepened and enriched the characters created for the screen by

Lee David Zlotoff.

* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.


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