SALT LAKE CITY — The Spitfire Grill was a musical I was unfamiliar with. I sat in anticipation and a bit of curiosity to see what the Westminster Players and director Michael Vought had in store. I was pleased with this gem of a musical, which sets itself apart from the run-of-the-mill song and dance formula. While those musicals are fun to attend, The Spitfire Grill had much more meat to its plot and with a zest of country music, it served up a delicious treat.
The Spitfire Grill takes place in the small, rural town of Gilead, Wisconsin. Newcomer Percy Talbott shows up fresh from serving a five year sentence in prison to start a new life. She takes a job as a waitress at the only place to eat in Gilead, the Spitfire Grill. In a town where everyone knows everyone, many are skeptical of her past and rumors fly. However, over time Percy finds this small town taking root in her heart, changing her for the better and the residents of Gilead feel Percy’s influence for good as well.
I have been to many musicals in the area during my time as a reviewer for UTBA and I have to say this is musically the most solid cast I have encountered thus far. Everyone in this small cast from the lead character Percy, played by Ashley Gardner Carlson, down to the members of the ensemble had strong, beautiful voices that blended well and the harmonies were spot on. With a live, small orchestra to accompany the cast, the music throughout the performance was a delight. My favorite song was “Ice and Snow” performed by the whole company, who used different items, such as a shovel and ax, to keep the beat of the song as various members of the cast vocally entered and exited the song beautifully.
I have to give a hand to Nina Vought, who was resident scenic and costume designer for this show. She wonderfully depicted the nature of the town and its small grill with just one set. The scenery did a lot to set the stage and feel of this production.
My husband, who accompanied me to this musical, also mentioned how impressed he was by the lighting. He is a musician on the side and has worked with lighting designers in the past while on stage and he couldn’t help but notice the lighting of the musical was very well done by Spencer Brown.
The one downfall of The Spitfire Grill was that while I found the story interesting, I felt a need for more depth and growth in the relationships portrayed in this musical. I recognize that the story takes place over months, so only snippets of that time period are shown. However, I still didn’t feel the friendship and trust grow between Percy (Carlson) and the town members like I would have expected. For example the relationship between Percy and her boss Hannah (Alison Lente) who knows she is an ex-convict. Hannah is portrayed as a “tough old bird”, but seems to trust Percy quickly, while I would have preferred to have felt that friendship grow more. Another example is when one of our lead characters receives a marriage proposal, but that relationship wasn’t expressed to such a deep level in just scenes before. The one exception to this was the character of Shelby Thrope played by Melissa Nichol Jenkins. Shelby becomes friends with Percy and is influenced for good through their relationship. Jenkins fabulously portrayed this sweet character who slowly grows confidence and learns to stand up for herself.
Overall, I would say this musical was very well done. The cast’s portrayal of the small town feel of Gilead was excellent. My favorite side character was Effy, the town gossip played by Anna Morris. With all her snooping around, you couldn’t help but smile when she was on stage. She brought a bit of comic relief in a subtle way to this story that covers serious topics. Because of the serious topics that are discussed in this musical, I wouldn’t take younger audience members to this production. While enjoyable, the material is more for mature audiences.