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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: The Spitfire Grill is wonderful at the Barn in Montville

spitfire spy

Are you familiar with the African-American spiritual  "There is a balm in Gilead."  The first refrain is "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul." These opening lines may give you more than a clue to the plot of the wonderful musical of redemption and forgiveness that is closing out the 2014-15 season at the Barn Theatre in Montville.

The play is "The Spitfire Grill", a musical written by James Valcq (music and book) and Fred Alley (lyrics and book), based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff and is directed by Claudia Metz with musical direction by Clifford Parrish. Both Metz and Parrish are two very talented Barn Theatre veterans. Note that if you are familiar with the film the ending has been changed.

This musical adaptation tells the story of Percy Talbott (Danielle Meola Valencia), a young woman just released from prison who is looking to make a fresh start. Inspired by a photograph of a deeply wooded landscape in a travel brochure, she chooses the rural (and almost deserted) town of Gilead, Wisconsin. The local sheriff, Joe Sutter (Brandon Frumolt) finds a place for her to work at The Spitfire Grill where the town “welcomes” her with suspicion and distrust led by the town's postmistress and leading busybody, Effy Krayneck (Maryann Galife Post).

The Grill is owned by Hannah Ferguson (Darlene Rich), a feisty independent older woman clearly tired of the grind of operating a small restaurant. Percy quickly finds that the town itself is in despair since the main employer, a stone quarry, has closed. Hannah's only family is a married nephew Caleb Thorpe (Jason F. Cilento) who is married to Shelby (Sky Spiegel Monroe). After Hannah injures a leg, Shelby joins Percy in running the Spitfire Grill and remains after Hannah's recovery much against Caleb's wishes. The three women soon form a friendship learning in the process to not only trust one another with their pasts, but led by Percy find a unique path to "salvation."

Ok, that's a bit of the engrossing, uplifting plot....now the lovely score. The title might suggest that the play is a rock musical....no way. This is a marvelous, touching complex score presented by the Perry Award winning music director, Clifford Parrish. Parrish's fine group of musicians are Carol Hammersma, Tom Rodgers, Jennifer Gravenstine and Vincent Novelino.

Now, here is the most impressive part of this rewarding theater event....the cast. Each member is not only a first rate actor, but is blessed with a superior voice. Danielle Meola Valencia is spot-on as the deeply wounded Percy who learns to trust. She opens the play with the haunting "A Ring Around the Moon" and continues to please with ten other lively, infectious tunes. The fine voiced Sky Spiegel Monroe as Shelby is properly sensitive to her evolving relationship with Hannah and Percy. Darlene Rich's Hannah Ferguson is a pure pleasure to watch. The three female leads are perfectly matched. Both Brandon Frumolt as Sheriff Joe Stutter and Jason Cilento as Caleb possess fine powerful voices ready for any stage. Frumolt particulaly impresses with a duet with Danielle Meola Valencia as Percy "The Wide Woods" and his solo "Forest for the Trees." Cilento's best moment is his first act solo "Digging Stone." Maryann Galife Post is perfect as the comedy relief Effy.  Rounding out the cast is the mysterious "man in the woods" Matt Cotton.

This is a terrific, heart-warming play beautifully presented by the Barn's exceptionally talented team of volunteers. So easy to forget that you are watching a community theater group and not an Equity production. Special round of applause to director Claudia Metz, music director Clifford Parrish, Carla Kendall producer, Jonathan Wentz for his fine set, Todd Mills lighting, Janet Lazar and Christine Morgan costumes, Jeff Knapp sound, Camille DiLorenzo props, and Janine Wentz, with Sarah Wertheimer-Lopez, stage manager.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  May 17, 2015

Remaining performances are on May 23, 29, 30 June 5, 6 at 8pm; and on May 24, 31 at 2pm. Tickets are $24 (senior/student tickets are $22 on matinees only).

The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn Theatre on the web at www.barntheatre.org.

Top photo: (From Left to Right) Sky Spiegel Monroe (of Morristown NJ), Darlene Rich (of Middlesex NJ) and Danielle Meola Valencia (of Nutley NJ)  [Photo by Tom Schopper]

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