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LA Theater Review

The Spitfire Grill

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Percy Talbot (Meaghan Kyle) aptly selects the town of Gilead as her destination after five years in prison, for healing and redemption are necessary before she can make some sense of her life. James Valcq (music and book) and Fred Alley (lyrics and book) have adapted this musical play from Lee David Zlotoff's dark and moody film with theatrical success. Lighter than the original, it combines lovely lyrics and a passable score to spin out the predictable tale of small-town salvation.

Percy arrives at the Spitfire Grill to work for Hannah Ferguson (Sandra Hackman), the crusty owner. After a fall lays Hannah up and it is discovered Percy can't cook, she is joined by Shelby Thorpe (Tania Obteshka), the cowed wife of Hannah's nephew, Caleb (Jack Chansler). Shelby's emergence as an independent woman, Percy's growing self-determination, and Hannah's physical and spiritual healing are the key elements that elevate this story beyond the commonplace. A minor love story between Percy and Sheriff Joe Sutter (Bryan Hale) and the revelation of the identity of a not-so-mysterious stranger (Jake Beene) complete the plot's devices.

This is a woman's play, though Hale acquits himself well vocally as the restless young man in "Forest for the Trees." Obteshka and Kyle have well-trained voices, and they handle their challenging solos and duets with strong vocal power, most notably in "The Colors of Paradise." Music director Robert Vitale and musicians Connie Washburn and Barry Jaquess perform the well-executed score.

Director Bob Hakman's crisp, fluid direction makes us like these folks. Though Caleb is the ostensible bad guy, Hackman never makes him too objectionable. Some comedy is provided by the gossipy postmistress, enthusiastically played by Melody McCormick. Sandra Hackman is completely natural as the heart-of-gold proprietor. Though some of the voices are less sure than Obteshka's and Kyle's, they make up for it with sincerity.

A sense of community makes this hometown production an enjoyable outing. Its warmth and happy endings for all are nice antidotes to life's realities.

Presented by and at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre . Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sun. 2:30 p.m. Also Thu. 8 p.m. Jun. 8. Apr. 29-Jun. 10. (626) 256-3809.

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