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Draper Journal

Draper Historic Theatre’s “The Spitfire Grill” to serve up laughter and tears

Feb 05, 2019 01:45PM ● By Katherine Weinstein

The townspeople of Gilead, Wisconsin, celebrate the winning raffle entry for their town diner, the Spitfire Grill, in Draper Historic Theatre’s “The Spitfire Grill.” Back row: Ashley Ramsey, Jordyn Aspyn, Andrea Chapman. Front row: Jen Spongberg, Nathan Metcalf, Josh Durfey. (Photo courtesy Bailey Loveless/Draper Historic Theatre)

By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]

“Heartfelt.” “Engaging.” “Poignant.” These are words used by drama critics to describe the musical “The Spitfire Grill” when it opened Off-Broadway in the fall of 2001. The musical, which tells the story of a young woman’s extraordinary impact on the citizens of a rural town, is a contrast to bigger Broadway spectacles with its small cast, folksy, bluegrass-tinged score, and homespun plot. Draper Historic Theatre will present “The Spitfire Grill” Feb. 15 through March 4.

“People won’t know how much they need this show until they see it,” said actor Andrea Chapman, who plays the talented cook Shelby Thorpe. “It’s going to click on some level with you,” echoed Nathan Metcalf, who plays her gruff, veteran husband, Caleb. Jordyn Aspyn, who plays the lead role of Percy, described the show as “heartwarming, full of laughter but also sadness. It is very real.”  

Summarizing what the show is about is no simple matter. The overriding theme is about redemption and forgiveness but also the importance of friendship, the emotional scars left by loss and abuse and the personal cost of serving in the military. Ashley Ramsey, who plays diner owner Hannah Ferguson, summed up her take on the show’s themes as, “No mistake is so big that you can’t come back from it. We can learn to love again no matter what has happened.”     

Based on the 1996 movie starring Ellen Burstyn and Marcia Gay Harden, “The Spitfire Grill” is about a young woman named Percy who seeks to make a new start in Gilead, Wisconsin, following a stint in prison. Gilead has seen better days and is nearly a ghost town. Percy ends up working at the titular diner run by a sharp-tongued widow named Hannah. When Hannah breaks her leg and needs to sell the diner, Percy proposes a raffle in which people can submit an essay, along with a $100 entry fee, explaining why they want to buy it.  

Soon essays and bids are coming in from all over. While the people of Gilead were initially wary of Percy, they gradually open up to her. The stories of the townspeople, their secrets, sorrows and struggles are revealed. Percy herself is a survivor of abuse but her presence in the town is transformative. Chapman explained, “Everybody changes because this girl comes to their town.” Josh Durfey, who plays Sheriff Joe Sutter, noted that the show is not only about the power of redemption for the characters, but for the place as a whole. “Percy brings such a spark to the town,” he said.

This production of “The Spitfire Grill” is very much a labor of love for the director and cast members who have found aspects of their own personal lives reflected in the stories of the characters. “It is a cathartic show,” said director Eldon Randall, who fell in love with the musical 12 years ago when he saw it at Utah Shakespeare Festival. This will be Randall’s fourth time directing it.  

Aspyn is reprising her role as Percy at Draper Historic Theatre, having played it two years ago as a student at Southern Utah University. She says the music in “The Spitfire Grill” has grown on her over the years. “It is a really unique score for a musical,” she said. The musical styles in the songs range from folk-rock to bluegrass to more conventional Broadway-style ballads. The instrumentals include mandolin, guitar, fiddle, accordion, piano and cello. “The music sort of scratches at your heart and burrows in,” said Aspyn.

Jen Spongberg, who plays Effy the town gossip, noted that this production of “The Spitfire Grill” is “a big move” for Draper Historic Theatre as it differs from the theater’s usual offerings in its intimacy and overall mood. “It will likely pull in a different crowd,” she said. “Everyone will take away something different from this show.” 

Draper Historic Theatre’s production of “The Spitfire Grill” by James Valcq and Fred Alley will be presented Feb. 15, 16, 18, 22, 23 and 25 as well as March 1, 2, and 4 at 7 p.m. There will be a matinee performance on Feb. 23. For tickets and more information, visit the Draper Historic Theatre website at  HYPERLINK "" or call 801-572-4144 during the run. Draper Historic Theatre is located at 12366 South 900 East in Draper.