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,
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
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
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
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.