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'Spitfire Grill' will be cooking at Corn Stock Theatre

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To say “The Spitfire Grill” is not your usual community theatre musical fare is pretty much an understatement.

There is no big chorus, no huge dance numbers that fill the stage, no over-the-top fantasy… “The Spitfire Grill” is a small-cast, sometimes heavy musical drama that takes audiences on a roller coaster ride toward an uplifting ending.

“Different, yes. And that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do it,” said Eric Ewan, director of “The Spitfire Grill” production that opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. under the Corn Stock Theatre tent in Upper Bradley Park.

“I have wanted to direct this show since I first saw it about 10 years ago in Springfield. I’d told Corn Stock that I would do Spitfire in a minute, so when they asked me to do it this summer, of course I said yes. At one point it didn’t look like I would get to do it, but it worked out and here we are. In the end, fate took over, I think,” said Ewan, who has starred in many community theatre productions in the Peoria region the last 20 years or so.

There was a time, he said, that people were concerned “The Spitfire Grill” was too small of a musical to be produced in the tent. “I think it’s perfect for the tent and I’m glad the theatre does, too,” he added.

“The Spitfire Grill” is based on the film by the same name written by Lee David Zlotoff. The music was written by James Valcq and the lyrics were written by Fred Alley. It follows a young woman who, soon after being released from prison, decides to live and start her life over in a small Wisconsin town. She becomes involved in a reawakening in the town that takes place when the owner of the grill decides to “raffle” it in a unique way.

While that may not seem like the normal type of storyline for a musical, Ewan said the songs do advance the plot. “It is more of a play with songs but the songs fit the plot and advance it. And I was able to get some really good singers who can also act,” he said.

They include community theatre veteran Lana Warner as Hannah Ferguson, the crusty yet trusty owner of “The Spitfire Grill,” and relative Corn Stock newcomer Sagan Drake in the role of Percy Talbott, the young woman who comes to Gilead, Wisconsin after being paroled from prison. “People know Lana and her talent and they will be impressed with Sagan,” Ewan said.

Jes King, who showed her chops as the title character in “Sugar,” Corn Stock’s opening show of the summer, portrays Shelby, who becomes close to Percy as they both try to get past sadness and help Hannah.

Another well-known local performer, Cheri Beever, portrays the busybody postmistress Effy Krayneck, while Jeremie Davis is Caleb Thorpe, Cody Jacobs portrays Sheriff Joe Sutter, and Chris Peterlin, whose return to the stage was as Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” at Corn Stock’s Winter Playhouse, is The Visitor.

That’s it; seven characters, far below the norm for a musical.

“I really had hoped to get one of Peoria’s ‘grand dames of the theatre’ to audition for me and I got two,” he said, referring to Warner and Beever. “I really couldn’t be more pleased with my cast. I believed we could do this show better than other productions I’d seen and I was right. We do,” he said.

Ewan said that while “The Spitfire Grill” is a musical drama, it contains a lot of humor. “That’s good because if you laugh with the characters you feel for them more when they go through tragedy. There’s a song in the show called ‘Come Alive Again’ and that’s really the message of this show. I like shows that are uplifting and I think audiences will leave here feeling uplifted,” he said.

He cautioned “The Spitfire Grill” is rated PG-13 because of the dramatic and more adult content. “The themes are a little heavier,” he said.

The six-piece orchestra directed by John Davis, who was music director for “Spamalot” two seasons ago, and the orchestra will be on stage with the actors during the show.

Other songs include “A Ring Around the Moon,” “Something’s Cookin’ at the Spitfire Grill,” “Into the Frying Pan,” “When Hope Goes,” “Shine,” and “Way Back Home.”

Ewan points out that “The Spitfire Grill” musical received critical acclaim when it opened off-Broadway on Sept. 7, 2001. “We of course know what happened four days later. By the time it re-opened, it never really recovered and it closed early. But not before the New York Times called it the best show of 2001,” he said.

“The Spitfire Grill” runs through Aug. 13, with each show starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and they can be ordered online at or by calling (309) 676-2196.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).