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CCRI Players to stage 'The Spitfire Grill'

Nov. 25, 2013

Shelby, played by Audrey Lavin Crawley (right), comforts her friend Percy, played by Elizabeth Souin, in the CCRI Players production of “The Spitfire Grill,” which will be staged from Dec. 5 to 8 at the Knight Campus in Warwick. Shelby, played by Audrey Lavin Crawley (right), comforts her friend Percy, played by Elizabeth Souin, in the CCRI Players production of “The Spitfire Grill,” which will be staged from Dec. 5 to 8 at the Knight Campus in Warwick.

The Community College of Rhode Island Players will present “The Spitfire Grill,” an intimate and heartening musical by James Valcq and Fred Alley, from Thursday to Sunday, Dec. 5 to 8, in the Bobby Hackett Theater at the Knight Campus, 400 East Ave., Warwick.

“The Spitfire Grill” follows the story of Percy Talbot, a young woman who has just been released from a five-year prison sentence for manslaughter. She is trying to find a place for a fresh start and, based on a page from an old travel book, travels to the small town of Gilead, Wis. The local sheriff, Joe Sutter, who is also Percy’s parole officer, finds her a job at Hannah Ferguson’s Spitfire Grill – the only eatery in this struggling town.

The Spitfire Grill has long been for sale, under the auspices of the local real estate office run by Hannah’s nephew, Caleb Thorpe. But with no interested buyers, Hannah, prompted by Percy and Caleb’s wife, Shelby, decides to raffle it off. The entry fee is $100 and the best essay on why the entrant wants the grill wins. Soon, despite the skepticism of Caleb and town busybody Effy Krayneck, mail is arriving by the wheelbarrow full and things are definitely getting hot at the Spitfire Grill. This musical triumph is an inspiring celebration of fresh starts, redemption and the power of what one person can accomplish.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5 to 7, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8. Professor Bert Silverberg will direct the production with musical direction by Dr. Audrey Kaiser. Set design is by Luke Sutherland, costume design by Jeffrey A. Butterworth, and lighting design by guest artist Tyler M. Perry. Amanda Beaton of Providence is the stage manager.

The cast includes Elizabeth Souin of Cranston as Percy, Lauren Ferreira of Cranston as Hannah, Audrey Lavin Crawley of Woonsocket as Shelby, Brayam Renovales of Providence as Joe, Raymond Fournier of Riverside as Caleb, Victoria Albin of North Kingstown as Effy, and Alexander Battista of Johnston as the Visitor.

Reserved-seat tickets cost $12 for the general public and $10 for students and senior citizens. Telephone reservations may be made by calling 401-825-2219 at any time.

Valcq and Alley had been friends since high school music camp in 1980, but it wasn’t until 1994 that they collaborated on “The Passage” for Alley’s American Folklore Theatre in Wisconsin. New York-based Valcq was seeking a follow-up project for the pair after his “Zombies from the Beyond” closed Off Broadway in 1995. They wanted to create a piece of populist theater with elements of myth and folktale. Upon seeing Lee David Zlotoff’s 1996 film “The Spitfire Grill,” they had found their vehicle and began writing the musical in October 1999.

When “The Spitfire Grill” began previews in New York on Sept. 7, 2001, one could not imagine the tragic and earth-shattering events that would ensue nearby less than a week later. Reviewing the musical, critic John Simon wrote in New York Magazine, “It is not often that material moves me to tears, but this was one of those occasions. ‘The Spitfire Grill’ has the heart and soul that your ‘Producers’ and ‘Full Montys’ cannot begin to approach. What even in normal times would be a joy is, in these troubled ones, sheer nourishment.”

Reviewing “The Spitfire Grill” in The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote, “the songs are shiny with tunefulness, hope and all-American inflections of country and folk. Mr. Valcq’s score has a gentle American vernacular charm. Mr. Alley’s lyrics have a matching ease and simplicity.”

According to Billboard, “In a genre known for being big and brassy, it's always a pleasure to come across a musical that revels in its quiet moments. That's why ‘The Spitfire Grill’ is like a breath of fresh country air.”

Other critics echoed Mr. Simon’s comments on the show’s poignancy following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Wall Street Journal’s Amy Gamerman wrote, “’The Spitfire Grill’ feels as if it has been transplanted to Times Square directly from an obscure patch of the American heartland. The longing for a place like Gilead, well removed from the big, troublesome world, is real enough – perhaps now more than ever. The show’s creators tap into that longing with unembarrassed directness. Well before the show reaches its conclusion, many in the audience may be ready to enter Hannah’s raffle themselves.”

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Last Updated: 8/25/16