Since it opened Off-Broadway in 2001 at Playwrights Horizons, The Spitfire Grill has become one of the most often-produced new American musicals. All across the United States, from Canada to the Caribbean, from Korea to Germany, from the UK to Japan, The Spitfire Grill has had more than 500 productions. Based on the award-winning film by Lee David Zlotoff, the musical depicts the journey of a young woman just released from prison who decides to start her life anew in a rural Wisconsin town. She precipitates a journey within the town itself toward its own tenuous reawakening. The folk and bluegrass tinged score is unlike that for any other musical.
Follows recently paroled convict Percy Talbott, who is looking for somewhere to start over, and rural Gilead, Wisconsin, seems just the place. She takes a job at the Spitfire Grill, a crumbling diner where the townsfolk congregate and gossip, run by a feisty widow named Hannah. Hannah has been trying to sell the diner to escape from the painful memories it holds, but the property has been on the market for a decade with no takers. Soon, Percy hatches a plan to hold a raffle for ownership of the Spitfire Grill—for one hundred dollars and an essay about why they might want the Grill, anyone can enter the contest. As the seasons change and rumours about her past build, the contest entries begin to roll in, and Percy starts to realize that she's not the only person in Gilead with a history.Synopsis complet
Authors James Valcq and Fred Alley had been friends since high school music camp in 1980, but it wasn’t until 1994 that they collaborated on The Passage for Alley’s American Folklore Theatre in Wisconsin. New York-based Valcq was seeking a follow-up project for the pair after his Zombies from The Beyond closed Off-Broadway in 1995. They wanted to create a piece of populist theatre with elements of myth and folktale. Upon seeing the film The Spitfire Grill, they had found their vehicle. Actual writing of the musical commenced in October 1999.
A demo tape of a few songs from the score found its way to David Saint, Artistic Director of the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey. The theatre presented a workshop of the show in June, 2000 featuring Helen Gallagher as Hannah, and produced the world premiere production in November 2000 featuring Beth Fowler as Hannah. Throughout the process, Arthur Laurents mentored the creative team, encouraging them to find their own emotional truth in the material. The ending of the musical is entirely different from the ending of the film.
Ira Weitzman, Associate Producer of musicals at Playwrights Horizons, and Tim Sanford, the Artistic Director, saw the George Street production and announced that The Spitfire Grill would open the 2000-2001 season at Playwrights Horizons after a May workshop. Tragically, one week before the workshop, Alley suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging in the woods near his Wisconsin home. He died at the age of 38.
Two weeks later, The Spitfire Grill was presented with the Richard Rodgers Production Award . Stephen Sondheim chairs the committee that chose the The Spitfire Grill as the winner. The remainder of the group comprised Lynn Ahrens, Jack Beeson, John Guare, Sheldon Harnick, R. W. B. Lewis, Richard Maltby, Jr., and Robert Ward.
The Off-Broadway production featured Phyllis Somerville as Hannah, Garrett Long as Percy, and Liz Callaway as Shelby. It was directed by David Saint. The show received Best Musical nominations from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League, as well as Drama Desk nominations for Garrett Long as Outstanding Actress in a Musical and Liz Callaway as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical.
Since the Playwrights Horizons production, The Spitfire Grill has been produced almost 500 times worldwide in regional theatres, festivals, stock, community and school productions. Foreign language versions have been produced in Germany in 2005, in South Korea in 2007, and in Japan in 2009. Notable American versions include a co-production by American Folklore Theatre (co-founded by Fred Alley) and Skylight Opera Theatre (2002) which featured Phyllis Somerville as Hannah, the West Coast premiere at Laguna Playhouse (2002) which won the OC Award for Best Musical, and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival production in 2006 which was conducted by James Valcq. The musical had its UK premiere at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe in a production by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and its Australian premiere in July 2010 by The Margaret River Theatre Group.
In 2011, American Folklore Theatre produced a 10th Anniversary production which was directed by the composer.
The show premiered in Singapore at the Creative Cube in September 2012. The musical was performed by LASALLE College of the Arts with direction by Tony Knight and musical direction by Ben Kiley. The cast consisted of Erin Clare (Percy Talbott), Alison Eaton (Hannah Ferguson), Timothy Langan (Joe Sutter), Kelly White (Shelby), Emma Etherington (Effy), Vanessa Powell (Caleb) and Brett Khaou (Eli). 
The show will receive its London Premiere at The Union Theatre, Southwark in a production starring Belinda Wollaston as Percy Talbott and directed by Alastair Knights in July 2015.
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