Review: 'The Spitfire Grill' at Community Theatre at Woodbury

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • @nancysjanis417

“If you’ve got the thread, you’ll find the needle.” - Effy Krayneck

Woodbury, CT - ‘The Spitfire Grill,’ a Musical Drama, sounded good just by its description. Percy Talbot is a feisty parolee and is inspired by a page from an old travel book to relocate to the small town of Gilead, Wisconsin and finds work at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill. The only eatery in the depressed town has been for sale for years and has not sold, so the newcomer suggests that the owner raffle the place off. The entry fee is $100 and the would-be new owner of the grill would be chosen based upon an essay they have written about why they want to own it. The musical is based upon the film by Lee David Zlotoff with music and lyrics by James Valcq and lyrics and book by Fred Alley. 

The production of this show at the Community Theatre at Woodbury was beautifully directed by Sarah Robards with music direction by Lynne Kearney. Ms. Robards writes in her notes that what is most impressive about the musical version is how “through great music and lyrics, the story resonates with the themes of risk, courage, and transcendence...What we witness in [the] lives of the characters in ‘The Spitfire Grill,’ as each individual opens to the opportunity to confront old wounds, heal and grow, is transcendence.” So there is plenty of drama, but the musical is written with a brighter ending than that of the film. There is also some fine comedy and lots of wonderfully rich music that moves the story along seamlessly. When any subset of the small cast sings together, the effect is magnificent. 

Some of the songs reminded me of Sting’s ‘The Last Ship’ and many had a down-home feel. The small group of six musicians under the direction of Ms. Kearney are sponsored for all of the four performances by a grant from The Woodbury/Bethlehem Community Music Foundation. They made the score sound great and Mary Tokarski on accordion added so much. 

The cast of seven worked together well. Kevin Cooper played the shadowy visitor in only a few scenes and did it well. Lisa Goldberg, who grew up in Woodbury, also did well as Effy Krayneck, the nosey postmaster. Sandy Walker portrayed the grill’s owner Hannah with aplomb and a nice alto voice.  Anthony Contento, in his debut on the CTW stage, played Hannah’s nephew Caleb Thorp and Jim Sillery of Watertown sang very well as the town sheriff Joe Sutter. 

Elizabeth Gower, in her CTW debut, tugged at the heartstrings as Caleb’s wife Shelby as she tried to break out of her shell. This singing actress from Southbury gave a wonderful performance and never missed a note of her solo pieces. I was also blown away by the performance of Rebecca Zaretzky in the pivotal role of Percy Talbott. Ms. Zaretzky, who also made her debut with the CTW, is a graduate of the Boston Conservatory. This young woman possesses a wonderful stage presence with a hint of the always wonderful Holly Martin in it, as well as such a wonderful singing voice that I looked forward to each of her next numbers listed in the program. Whether she was bringing out the humor in “Out of the Frying Pan” or beauty of “Shine,” this vocalist never disappointed. Her duet with Ms. Gower on “The Colors of Paradise” was a musical highlight, as was the company’s quintet on “Something’s Cooking at the Spitfire Grill.”

There were couple of line issues on opening night perhaps due to nerves and a few sound glitches for a few of the singers. The set designed by the director was just enough and costumes by Kris Geddes and Kathleen Shannon were just right with waitress aprons courtesy of the Olive Tree in Woodbury. Lighting designed by Bill Geddes took advantage of the newly improved stage lighting. Bob Cutrofello was thanked for all of his technical help.  

The packed opening night audience was on their feet at the curtain call for this final show of the CTW’s second season. Remaining performances at the Woodbury Historic Town Hall at 5 Mountain Road in Woodbury are Saturday May 14 at 7:30pm and Sunday May 15 at 2:00pm. CTW’s third season will include ‘Steel Magnolias,’ ‘Almost, Maine,’ ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ co-directed by Sarah and Kate Robards, and a musical called ‘Tied to the Tracks.’