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The Spitfire Grill.

The Spitfire Grill is a musical based on the 1996 film of the same name.

Cast

  • Garrett Long - Percy Talbott
  • Beth Fowler - Hannah Ferguson
  • Jean Mertz - Shelby Thorpe
  • Susan Mansur - Effy Krayneck
  • Armand Schultz - Caleb Thorpe

Plot

Rural Wisconsin. February. A young woman named Percy Talbott gazes out the window of her prison cell. She’s about to be released. In her pocket is a photograph clipped from a travel book. The caption reads, “Autumn colors along Copper Creek near Gilead, Wisconsin”. Arriving in Gilead, Percy reports to the local Sheriff, Joe Sutter. He leads her through the deserted streets to a ramshackle diner called the Spitfire Grill, run by a crusty old widow, Hannah Ferguson, who has a bad hip and sharp tongue. Joe persuades Hannah to take Percy on board and give her work as a waitress.

Percy sets to work in a swirl of small town suspicions led by Effy (played by Willa Lane), the postmistress who’s also village busybody. In the face of all the gossip and Hannah’s constant haranguing, Percy begins to wonder whether she made a mistake in coming to Gilead. Her thoughts are interrupted by a cry from Hannah, who has tripped on the stairs and broken her leg. Against the better wishes of her fiercely protective nephew Caleb, Hannah has Percy take over the Spitfire. But when it comes to cooking, Percy is clueless. That night, without explaining why, Hannah reluctantly asks Percy to wrap a towel around a loaf of bread and to leave it near the old stump out back of the Grill.

Percy is joined at the Spitfire by Caleb’s wife Shelby an excellent cook. In the heat of the kitchen the two women are drawn together. Shelby tells Percy about Hannah and Gilead’s past – the day her childhood hero went off to war and her hometown changed forever.

Wanting to escape painful memories, Hannah has had the Grill on the real estate market for ten years with no takers. In a moment of inspiration, Percy proposes a way for Hannah to get rid of the Spitfire and make some money at the same time: a raffle. For a hundred dollars and an essay about why they might want the Grill, anyone can enter. At first Hannah resists, but slowly, something about the craziness of the idea convinces her that it just might work. As the rest of the town watches the long Wisconsin winter stubbornly give way to spring, the women at the Spitfire plan the details of the contest. Percy and Shelby share a vision of life as they wish it were while writing the advertisement for the raffle.

Caleb spots the contest ads as they begin to appear in out-of-town papers. Without a decent job since the local quarry closed, Caleb has been left trying to sell real estate that no one wants. His frustration turns against a world where it is no longer enough to be a hard-working man.

During a parole session with Sheriff Joe Sutter, Percy tells something of her bleak past growing up in the West Virginia coal mines. Joe in turn spills out his dissatisfaction with life in Gilead.

As summer approaches, the very first raffle entry arrives in the mail, complete with a hundred dollars and a rather depressing essay which stirs up some of Hannah’s old wounds. That night, while placing the usual loaf of bread out back, Percy encounters a silent visitor. She attempts to make conversation but the mysterious man merely takes the bread and flees. Weeks go by and essays begin to pour into the Grill from far and wide.

Hannah, Percy and Shelby sit in the Grill after hours, reading essays and drinking from a jug of Hannah’s infamous applejack. As they read the letters, some funny, some sad, Hannah expresses her appreciation for what Percy and Shelby have done. Before long it seems everyone in town is helping Hannah to sift through the letters, and a magical shift occurs not only at the Spitfire, but throughout Gilead as well.

Late one October night on the back porch, Joe tells Percy that he no longer wants to leave Gilead. He plans to build a house on a plot of land his father has given to him. Deeply troubled, Percy abruptly rejects Joe’s proposal of marriage and confides to Shelby the harsh details of her life. Impregnated by her stepfather when she was 16, Percy suffered untold abuse resulting in the loss of her unborn child. While on the run, she killed her stepfather with his own straight razor. Shelby comforts Percy and gently sings her to sleep.

When Percy awakens, she sees the mysterious visitor and at last realizes he is none other than Eli, Hannah’s own son. Eli leads Percy deep into the forest and then to a clearing atop a hill. The leaves have turned to autumn colors and as the sun rises, they burn like flame.

Transformed by her hilltop vision, Percy leads Eli back to the Grill to re-unite him with Hannah after so many years. In a painful confrontation, Shelby and Caleb recognize Eli and react with such shock at his battered appearance and broken demeanor that Eli flees. Hannah finally admits that Eli had been a deserter in the Vietnam war. The shame of it killed her husband. And though Hannah has taken care of Eli’s basic needs, she has kept his presence in the woods a secret from the entire town. Percy pleads with Hannah to express her forgiveness to Eli. Day passes into night and Hannah calls out to her son. Out of the shadows, Eli appears in the Grill once more. Hannah reaches out her hand to welcome him home.

On the last day of the contest, everybody reads their favorite essay. Finally Hannah reads the words that have touched her the most: the ad describing the Grill, written by Percy and Shelby. In gratitude for their role in re-uniting mother and son, while admitting she’s not offering much in return, Hannah turns over the Grill to Percy and Shelby. They celebrate with some saucy pizza.

Musical numbers

Act I
  • "A Ring Around the Moon" - Percy
  • "Something's Cooking at the Spitfire Grill" - Company
  • "Out of the Frying Pan" - Percy
  • "When Hope Goes" - Shelby
  • "Ice and Snow" - Caleb, Joe and Effy
  • "The Colors of Paradise" - Percy and Shelby
  • "Digging Stone" - Caleb
  • "This Wide Woods" - Joe and Percy
  • "Never Heal" - Hannah
  • "Shoot the Moon" - Hannah and Company
Act II
  • "Come Alive Again" - Hannah and Company
  • "Forest For the Trees" - Joe
  • "Wild Bird" - Shelby
  • "Shine" - Percy
  • "Way Back Home" - Hannah
  • "Finale" - Company
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