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Theater review: PCPA serves up a winner in ‘The Spitfire Grill’
From left, Michael Jenkinson as Joe, Lexy Fridell as Percy, Phoebe Moyer as Hannah and Kiera O'Neil as Shelby perform the final musical number, “Shoot the Moon,” in PCPA’s latest production, “The Spitfire Grill.” / Luis Escobar/Reflections Photography Studio

The final song in Act One of the new PCPA production, "The Spitfire Grill" is called "Shoot The Moon." It is a song about taking chances and looking forward to change.

And that is what PCPA has done this summer. With two consecutive musicals that have never played in front of Central Coast audiences, the theater company has taken the opportunity to shoot for the moon - with great success artistically.

For those of you who skipped "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" because you were unfamiliar with the material, do not pass up on "The Spitfire Grill."

The musical, based on a movie of the same name released in 1996, is a story of love and redemption. Some of the major plot points have been changed from the film, as is the location, but it still follows the main story of a young girl released from prison who tries to find her place in the world.

Guest artist Lexy Fridell is outstanding as Percy, the parolee with a dark secret, who finds herself in the small town of Gilead, Wis. The town is at the end of the road to nowhere.

Through the local sheriff, Joe, played quite well by resident artist Michael Jenkinson, Percy finds a job at the only restaurant in town, the Spitfire Grill, owned by Hannah.

As Hannah, Phoebe Moyer brings a lot of spunk and dignity as the longtime owner of the grill. She is weary and in physical pain, but is still the beloved matriarch of the small town.

The townsfolk are obviously suspicious of the new waitress, especially the town busybody, Effy, humorously played by local favorite Bree Murphy. It is the type of funny role in which Murphy can really shine, and she does.

The small cast is rounded out by Caleb and Shelby, Hannah's nephew and his wife - played by resident artist Colum Parke Morgan and guest artist Kiera O'Neil - and Aaron A. Bonilla as a mysterious homeless man.

Morgan is spot on as the frustrated Caleb, trying to make ends meet since the town mill has shut down. He, too, is not very trusting of Percy. O'Neil, who has a very lovely singing voice, befriends Percy and is at odds with her husband over Percy's participation at the grill.

A series of events takes place as Percy becomes more important to Hannah, Shelby and the grill.

What really stood out to me in "The Spitfire Grill" were the songs, by James Valcq and Fred Alley, who also wrote the book to the play. In most standard musicals, the songs are an extension of scenes. Like an opera, in "The Spitfire Grill," each song pushes the plot into its next logical direction.

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Fridell brings a great poignancy to her songs and character development. As funny as the talented actress was in "Spelling Bee," she is touching and vulnerable here.

O'Neil is terrific in her role and has several standout songs, but when the two voices of Fridell and O'Neil blend, it is magical. Jenkinson also has a terrific singing voice, which is showcased effectively here.

The director is Valerie Rachelle, and she does another outstanding job with pacing. It also was a nice choice to keep the action entirely within the single set, featuring the grill itself, which was effectively designed by Dave Hofsinger.

Because of the intimacy of the play, it probably would be better served in a smaller venue, such as perhaps the Severson Theater next door to the Marian. But under Rachelle's direction, it works fine as is.

"The Spitfire Grill" is a tender and moving work of art - and a bold offering by the PCPA that should not be missed.

IN SANTA MARIA:

"The Spitfire Grill" is playing through Sunday, Aug. 23, at the Marian Theater, 800 S. College Dr. in Santa Maria. Shows begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $26.25 to $28.25 for adults, with discounts for children, students and seniors.

Call the box office at 922-8313 for tickets or visit the Web site at www.pcpa.org.

IN SOLVANG:

The show will continue Aug. 28 to Sept. 13 at the Solvang Festival Theatre, 420 Second St. in Solvang.

Call the box office at 922-8313 for times and ticket prices, or visit the Web site at www.pcpa.org.

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