The Spitfire Grill

Studio Theatre’s new spring musical The Spitfire Grill is a hot property!

“Something’s cookin’ at the Spitfire Grill!” is more than just a lyric line from the Studio Theatre’s new spring musical, The Spitfire Grill. It refers not only to the sizzling fare prepared at the lone restaurant in the small Wisconsin town of Gilead, but to the notion that there’s big news in these parts — the biggest since the disastrous closing of Gilead’s quarry years before.

There’s a new girl in town, and it doesn’t take long for the gossip-mongers and rubber neckers to spread the word that Percy (from the unusual name Perchance, meaning “by chance”), who happens to be living with Hannah at her rundown Spitfire Grill, is a recent prison parolee, a genuine jailbird. Why has Percy set her post-incarceration sights on Gilead? It turns out that the town was the focus of her prison dreams, after she saw an idyllic picture in a travel magazine. As the story unfolds — rich with infectious melodies and heartfelt, homespun truths — Percy’s presence becomes the spark that ignites new life in Gilead, and a new attitude towards the town’s future.
The Spitfire Grill explores themes of community and redemption, woven through scenes of exquisite poignancy juxtaposed with moments of comic hilarity. It’s an upbeat, uplifting slice of Americana, and you’ll be humming the show-stopping tunes long after the curtain closes.

The small cast of seven enormously talented performers comprises a wide variety of characters, from the elderly, foul-tempered Hannah (Barb Guthrie) to the mysterious, almost enchanted Percy (Courtney Mason) who has appeared as if from nowhere and who proceeds, unintentionally, to transform the town and its inhabitants. We also meet Joe, (Andrew MacDougall) the Sheriff; Shelby (Cait Morton) and Caleb (Jeff Kohl), a couple challenged by the town’s misfortunes; Effy (Lindsay Rewi), the postmistress and general busybody and the Visitor (Mark Bailey) whose identity remains a mystery until late in the play.

If many of these actors’ names sound familiar it’s because you’ve seen them — and loved them — in recent Studio Theatre musicals like 9 to 5, Bingo Ladies, and Little Women. They’re some of the most gifted musical theatre actors anywhere.

The Spitfire Grill is adapted for the stage from the 1996 film of the same name by David Lee Zlotoff. Fred Alley and James Valcq wanted to create a piece of populist theatre with elements of myth and folktale. Together they wrote the book, with Valcq composing the score’s music and Alley the lyrics. The Off-Broadway production by Playwrights Horizons began previews at 42nd Street’s Duke Theatre on September 7, 2001 and concluded its scheduled run on October 14, 2001, having been one of the unfortunate victims of the 911 attack that shut down much of Broadway’s entertainment in its horrific aftermath. The play won the Richard Rodgers Production Award, administered by The American Academy of Arts and Letters, among several other prestigious nominations and awards.

Critics loved the show. In New York magazine, John Simon wrote “Soulful and transcendent. It is not often that material moves me to tears, but this was one of those occasions.” In the New York Times, Alvin Klein declared the show “a soul-satisfying new musical. The Spitfire Grill is a complete work of theatrical resourcefulness. A compelling story that flows with grace and carries the rush of anticipation . . . The musical is freeing. It is penetrated by honesty and it glows.”

The Studio Theatre’s production of The Spitfire Grill is directed, of course, by C.Lee Bates, with musical direction by Rideau Lakes Orchestra conductor, Alexandra Guerin, who will be leading a talent-laden live orchestra which includes keyboard, cello, violin, guitar, mandolin, and accordion (synth). Emma Houlahan returns to Studio Theatre as the show’s Choreographer, while Joan Frommer runs everything else as Stage Manager. Carolee Mason joins this year’s musical production as Associate Director, Set Designer, and Dramaturg (yes, Dramaturg — a person who acts as a professional consultant and researcher to a theatre company.)


The Spitfire Grill premieres at the Studio Theatre, 63 Gore Street East, on Thursday, June 1st for 8 performances only.  Advance tickets are $25 (cash) at The Book Nook, 60 Gore St. E., and at Tickets Please ( and Shadowfax ( both of which accept credit cards and charge a convenience fee. Tickets are $27 at the door; students with ID pay just $10 at the door. Attend opening night and save $5! 

Yes, there’s big news in the town of Gilead, Wisconsin. And this spring, The Spitfire Grill will be big news here in Perth, too. Get your tickets soon — C. Lee Bates’ spring musicals are always a hot property!

Above, left to right, The Spitfire Grill in rehearsal: Hannah (Barb Guthrie) celebrates with Percy (Courtney Mason) and Shelby (Cait Morton) when letters of interest in the Spitfire Grill start arriving. Photo by Bruce Raby