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Small Town, Big Heart

Theater Review

May. 28, 2008
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  For young Percy Talbott and the folks of Gilead, Wisconsin life is not a physical journey out of the small town. In their case, it’s a new way of looking at life within as they rediscover all that’s good about their close knit community. It takes an outsider like Percy to show the insiders where the dormant joys lie buried, waiting to be rediscovered.

  And life in Gilead centers around The Spitfire Grill, the homey diner crossroads where everyone knows, or tries to know, one another’s business. Based on the 1996 film of the same name, the stage musical version tells the story of Talbott, newly released from prison, who chooses the town based on pictures she saw in magazines while serving time.

  There’s the sheriff with the soft heart, the busy-body post mistress, the stay-at-home wife who yearns for more while her husband tries to figure out his life since the quarry closed. And the Grill’s owner, the tough, feisty independent Hannah, an elderly woman with her own secrets.

  At first, the community rejects the outsider Talbott, especially given her convict status. But as she earns her keep—and their trust—while helping to run the Spitfire Grill when Hannah is injured, prejudice gives way to acceptance. Everyone at The Spitfire Grill finds their own way back to self-discovery and a better understanding of themselves—and what matters most in this life.

  Wisconsin natives James Valcq, a mainstay at the Skylight for many years, and the late Fred Alley wrote the book, music and lyrics (Valcq himself conducted the orchestra last opening weekend).It’s an eclectic score, filled with folk and country songs underscored by accordions, mandolins and guitars.The staging, directed by Skylight Artistic Director Bill Theisen, is well paced, as are the songs, which test the ranges of the various actors at times, despite strong voices.

  Katy Blake shines in the role of Percy, as if tailor made for the seemly innocent young woman who turns out to be wise beyond her years.She balances a defensive cynicism with a new found exuberance for life—and freedom—and the effect is infectious on those around her. As Hannah, Leslie Fitzwater plumbs the depths of this enigmatic, tough survivor, letting the layers peel back as the show progresses, allowing Hannah’s inner good and kindness to blossom once again. The rest of the cast shines as well, from Tony Clements as the sheriff with a soft spot, to Elizabeth Moliter’s role as Shelby, the repressed wife who finds freedom of her own. Steven Koehler, Becky Spice and the silent visitor, Michael Pocaro, round out the solid ensemble.

  At The Spitfire Grill, regulars get a lot more with their meals. It’s a life changing experience—and ultimately, a fulfilling one.

  The production runs through June 15 at the BroadwayTheatreCenter’s Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway.


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