Review: The Spitfire Grill at Pacific Theatre
Musical theatre tends to be associated with massive casts, splashy numbers, and grand, showy productions. There is another category of musical, however, that eschews such elaborate measures and instead utilizes the unique properties of music to add layer, depth, and texture to the story being told.
The Spitfire Grill is such a musical. It is a simple play about ordinary people trying to find change that weaves a lyrical, folk-inspired score into its telling. Carried on the voices of a remarkably talented ensemble and staged in the wonderful intimacy of the Pacific Theatre space, its beautiful melodies create a richness that simply could not be reached with words alone.
The story begins with a young woman, Percy, being released from prison and making her way to Gilead, a small town she saw pictured in an old magazine. Percy narrates the journey in ‘Ring Around the Moon’ – a cautious, hopeful ballad beautifully suited to the clear, bright tones of actress Julie McIsaac.
Arriving in town she meets local lawman Joe Sutter, who is also her parole officer. The role is given a wonderful, understated treatment by Steven Greenfield, who pulls double duty as the show’s musical director. Joe gets Percy a job at the Spitfire Grill and we soon learn the restaurant, like the rest of Gilead, is past its prime and slouching into a depressed obscurity.
As the Spitfire is the town’s only place of gathering, the rest of the cast soon assembles there, starting with Hannah, the restaurant’s owner. Barbara Pollard makes her a wonderfully complex figure, full of warmth, stubborness, humour, and regret. Regular patrons include her nephew Caleb and his wife Shelby – played by Damon Calderwood and Caitriona Murphy – and the mandatory town gossip Effy, given a lively realization by Sarah May Redmond.
Each of the townspeople bears a personal cross, yearning to escape, change the past, or just forget. Over the course of the play, Percy’s presence rekindles optimism and levity within the community and they, in turn, help Percy let go of the hurt and trauma she carries.
The hope, pain, and quirkiness of the characters are reflected and enhanced by James Valcq and Fred Alley’s wonderful score. Their music is simple and draws on folk elements, such as long melodic phrasings, that fit well with the story’s small-town, U.S.A. setting. It takes on an extra special property in this staging, as the actors not only sing but also play the score on violin, piano, accordion, and more (in addition to a small band on a raised platform).
The Spitfire Grill is a tender-hearted, whimsical musical that acknowledges both the great highs and painful lows that make up the human experience. Featuring a dynamite cast of local talent and a well-crafted, memorable score, it is a perfect show for autumn, radiating warmth and light in defiance of days growing cool and dark.
The Spitfire Grill runs until October 27 at Pacific Theatre. Click here for tickets & information.