Arts and Entertainment

‘Spitfire Grill’ warms hearts at the Jewel Box

'Spitfire Grill' opens May 28 at the Jewel Box Theatre.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Richard Thornton

There’s a lot a Kitsap audience might recognize in the setting of “Spitfire Grill,” the latest musical to be staged at Poulsbo’s Jewel Box Theatre.

Set in a little Wisconsin burg, it’s a story about small towns; about coming home, coming into friendship and coming to life.

“It’s dramatic, a make-you-cry, make-you-laugh kind of play,” said director Gwen Adams, who previewed some of the show’s songs at Viking Fest earlier this month, including parade song “When Hope Goes.” “We had someone come up to us and say that song was the perfect song. They said ‘Yeah, it really relates to Poulsbo and Kingston.’”

The Jewel Box will pull back the curtain on “Spitfire Grill” Friday, May 28. It runs at the Little Norway theater through June 27.

“Spitfire Grill” follows Percy Talbot, a female, 20-something ex-con who, upon her release from prison, jumps on a bus and plants herself in sleepy Gilead, a town she once saw in a travel brochure. She takes up work at the Spitfire Grill, a restaurant run by cranky, elderly widow Hannah and Hannah’s niece-in-law Shelby, with whom Percy forms a bond.

“Percy chooses this place because she thinks it’s going to be a paradise, a safe place to start over, but she finds out the town and the townspeople are just as dysfunctional as she is,” said Adams, of Kingston. “It turns out they need each other. She actually brings life back to this town.”

The musical is based on the 1996 film “The Spitfire Grill.” It was written by longtime collaborators James Valcq and Fred Alley, the latter of whom died just before the show’s debut. It opened off-Broadway in 2001.

The music, Adams said, isn’t over-the-top in the style of the Great White Way; it is instrumentally complex, with more of a folk feel, some of it written specifically for the fiddle and accordion. She and Jewel Box regular Rupert Kettle will employ her keyboard and his guitar to recreate the “driving, beautiful” sounds.

Nicole Bird plays Percy, a young woman roughened by prison life and tragedy. Bird was recently in CSTOCK’s revue “Christmas My Way” and has shared the stage with Adams in “Little Women.”

“She has a phenomenal voice,” Adams said. “She’s the kind you listen to and say ‘Wow, maybe she could give up her day job.’”

Christine Usher is Hannah, a widow whose son died while fighting in Vietnam. Unable to sell the grill, she must continue running the family business alone.

CSTOCK regular Ann Sveen plays Effy, the town busybody, and Daniel Kluth is Sheriff Joe, the authority to whom Percy reports when she arrives in town. Scott Usher plays Hannah’s nephew Caleb, Katie Olson plays Caleb’s wife, Shelby, and Jerry Vogt plays a visitor to the town.

The black box has been altered to represent Gilead; set designer David Bryant created a regular greasy spoon, with Wisconsin woods visible through the windows.

Adams, who directed “I Love a Piano” and “Forever Plaid,” among others, at the Jewel Box, said the show’s heartwarming was what caught her eye.

“I really like a good story. Good music and a good story,” she said. “This sounds like a feel-good story and I thought people could use that.” WU

Tickets to “Spitfire Grill” are $14 at the door; $12 for seniors, students and military. For information and reservations call (360) 697-3183 or visit www.jewelboxpoulsbo.org. The show runs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, May 28 - June 26, and at 2 p.m. Sundays June 6, 13, 20 and 27.

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