“The Spitfire Grill” serves up musical redemption
Theatre 21 musical parallels Christian life through themes and characters. | Caitlin Gaines/THE CHIMES
Cinema and media arts major Paul Davis stood on the stage in Theatre 21 giving instructions and announcements. He quickly commanded the attention of the cast seated in the black chairs below him. The laughter and playful banter of the cast and crew filled the air of the theater until silence ensued as Davis announced the five minute countdown before the two-hour run through of the play would begin. The cast quickly changed into a more urgent attitude as they each began setting up stage props and getting into character. They paced back and forth from behind the stage to the front rehearsing lines, doing vocal warm ups and setting everything in order. They were rehearsing a famous musical—“The Spitfire Grill”.
an arduous task
“The Spitfire Grill” follows the journey of Percy Talbott—played by sophomore elementary education major Katie Bartlett—who moves to the small town of Gilead, Maine upon her release from prison. Talbott finds a job at the only restaurant in town—the Spitfire Grill. She meets the townspeople there who have a habit of gossiping at the tables of the grill. They slowly warm up to Talbott, but remain suspicious and skeptical of her cryptic past. Things start to change when the owner of the lonely diner, Hannah Ferguson—played by sophomore theatre major Karina Rios—decides to raffle off her restaurant to whoever writes her the best letter explaining why they should receive the Spitfire Grill. As this new adventure begins, the characters begin connecting and forming close bonds with each other. This inevitably forces Talbott to confront her past as the townspeople become more and more fond of her.
Performing a musical proves an arduous task which calls for an enormous time commitment. Sophomore English major Caleb Bailey, who plays Sheriff Joe Sutter, explained how the cast and crew participate in rehearsals 12 hours a week. Their hard work also requires them to practice time management outside of rehearsals. Undeclared sophomore Amanda Petrowski, who plays Shelby Thorpe, echoes this sentiment.
“It took a lot of work, just a lot of time management and practice, and we would get together when there wasn’t rehearsals and practice,” Petrowski said. “So it took a lot of time and just fitting time into our busy schedules.”
However, all the time spent memorizing lines, choreographing songs and rehearsing proved a necessary process—one that benefits the students involved. As director of the show, associate communication professor Kate Brandon expressed the importance of students performing musicals.
“For theatre, it’s important that we train students to actually do musicals, to get to have some experience performing and going through the process of a musical, and not just a play,” Brandon said.
The hard work and substantial amount of time the cast and crew spent together also created a welcome community among them. Petrowski conveyed how she values this part of the process.
“This is the smallest cast that I’ve been in, so it was really fun to get to know everyone and make friends with them and be able to get so close with them with such a small cast,” Petrowski said.
the power of redemption
All of the time and preparation that went on behind the scenes make this musical memorable, but not as much as the theme of redemption that it conveys. The musical does not shy away from difficult topics, but uses the characters to address those issues and highlight the power of redemption. This sentiment is most clearly seen in Talbott’s character, which Bartlett describes as a difficult one to play.
“I’ve played sort of fluffy characters in the past, but Percy is not fluffy at all. She has a really hard background and there’s intense parts in the show,” Bartlett said. “Putting myself in that mindset has been really hard, but it’s been very interesting.”
Brandon noted how this theme reflects the Christian life and how God redeems and restores hope in one’s life.
“This is a great redemption story about a person who made some difficult choices and now wants to start new, a new life. She runs into some difficulties there, but she overcomes them and ends up restoring hope to the entire town,” Brandon said.