By Kevin T. Baldwin
A Preview of the upcoming Stageloft production.
Director: Andrew Bigelow
Assistant Director: Colleen Bigelow
Music Director: James Joinville
Stage Manager: Pamela Darling
Morgan Ryan Doherty as Percy
Amy Matson as Shelby
Cheryl Huelskamp Duggan as Hannah
Justin Matson as Joe
Robert C Latino as Caleb
Sarah Sirard as Effy
Zachary Taylor as the Mysterious Stranger
In Stageloft’s latest production, “Spitfire Grill the Musical,” when the main character, Percy, is released from prison and winds up at the Grill in Gilead, Wisconsin, there are multiple overlapping themes dealing with character redemption, suspicion, compassion, independence, and small town economic blight.
The musical is based on the 1996 film by Lee David Zlotoff and, according to Stageloft’s production director Andrew Bigelow, Percy’s story not only acts as a catalyst for the other characters. Those around her, in turn, have a profound impact on Percy, as well.
“Percy coming to the town is the hope/redemption that they have been needing so desperately although they don't know it yet, which is why there is some much suspicion from the town,” Bigelow says. “Also, Percy needs the town to help her heal from the trauma that she has suffered in her life and they help her with her redemption as well, eventually showing her the compassion that she needs to move on and grow as a person.”
The production is music directed by James Joinville and stage managed by Pamela Darling.
This is Bigelow’s first time directing for Stageloft but stated he and his wife, assistant director Colleen Bigelow, “have appeared on the stage here many times.”
According to Bigelow, the show distinguishes itself from Zlotoff's movie in a couple of different ways but maintains its overall message.
“The primary message of 'Spitfire Grill' is that, no matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, hope is not lost and everyone can be redeemed,” Bigelow says. “We sometimes just need to be given a little help or shown the way.”
Bigelow continues, “The show stands apart from the movie primarily because of the ending. The musical incorporates a lot of the movies themes with some lines taken directly from it. However, the show ends on a much brighter note than the movie.”
The cast, Bigelow points out, is, “full of very talented yet easy going actors who go with the flow.”
As the subject matter deals with “some dark and sensitive subjects,’ according to Bigelow, it occasionally proved challenging.
“Sometimes you get caught up in the emotion of what you are trying to say and do with it,” Bigelow says, indicating the cast rose to the challenge. “They (the cast) have overcome so much to make this musical happen. Their determination to make this show the best it can be is truly inspiring.”
With the book of the show written by James Valcq and Fred Alley, who also composed the score, there are a number of songs from “Spitfire Grill” that both of the Bigelows have come to enjoy through their staging of the production.
“Colleen has two favorite songs,” Bigelow says. “(The) first one is ‘Come Alive Again,’ for the beautiful harmonies and the message that it delivers of the town's recovery.”
Colleen’s second favorite tune, per Bigelow, is “‘Wild Bird,’ primarily because of the story that is told within the lyrics and Amy Matson (as “Shelby”) delivers this with such beauty and drive.“ The song comes in Act Two after some startling character revelations by “Percy,” portrayed by Morgan Ryan Doherty.
"My favorite song is ‘Digging Stone,’” Bigelow says, “which is Caleb's song (“Caleb” is played by Robert C Latino).
Just a sampling of the lyrics:
“Pay hard cash for all you own, a man is more than blood and bone, when he’s shoulder to shoulder, diggin’ stone”
Bigelow says he enjoys the song, “because of the folk sound of the music and because of the struggle that is revealed to be inside of this character. Robert C Latino brings this song to life and gives it so much passion and grit. It's wonderful.”
Recognizing certain elements ingrained in the depicted small town life in Gilead, Wisconsin Bigelow advised these elements could easily be applied to small towns here in Massachusetts.
“Certainly. There are so many towns in Massachusetts that are very small and unfortunately are largely ignored by travelers and the state for whatever reason,” Bigelow says. ”So many are looking for ways to revitalize there communities with not as much success as Gilead. I guess everyone needs a Percy to help out, eh?”