Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Tantallon Community Players The Spitfire Grill

By • Sep 29th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
The Spitfire Grill
Tantallon Community Players
Harmony Hall Regional Center, Fort Washington, MD
Through October 10th
2:00 with one intermission
$15/$12 Students and Seniors
Reviewed September 24, 2010

Director Charla Rowe has successfully assembled a very competent creative team and cast for her musical production of The Spitfire Grill. Artistically, Spitfire is cohesive and generally well-crafted. Musically, the show has its highs and lows. Overall, The Spitfire Grill is an enjoyable show with a great story and delightful musical numbers.

Based on a movie by the same title, The Spitfire Grill follows Percy Talbott, a young woman fresh from prison and looking to start a new life in a tiny town called Gilead. Upon her arrival, she goes to work for Hanna Ferguson, owner and proprietor of The Spitfire Grill. As time passes, she befriends the towns’ inhabitants, including Sherriff Joe Sutter, timid Shelby Thorpe, and a mysterious figure living the in the woods behind the Grill. Percy earns a place in the town by her creativity, hard work, and straightforward manner. The musical ends on a heartwarming note, leaving audiences pleasantly satisfied.

Valerie Holt gave an adequate performance as Percy Talbott. Holt was able to lead audiences through happy and upbeat scenes with a genuine smile and pleasant demeanor, though sometimes coming across as very young in her expression. In more emotional scenes, it became difficult to continue to sympathize with the character. Holt let the audience observe her character’s pain, but failed to draw them in emotionally.

Miss Holt’s singing voice is very lovely. Despite a rough start riding sharp through her opening song, the rest of her performance was outstanding, staying strong on harmonies through some rough patches in ensemble numbers. Audiences can look forward to watching her continue to mature through future roles.

Lani Novak in the role of Hannah Ferguson imbued her character with a terrific sense of authenticity. Her voice and mannerisms were perfectly suited and suggested a thoughtful creative process leading up to her performance. Her vocal performances were delightful as well; the song “Forgotten Lullaby” gave me shivers.

Roberta Chaves neatly portrayed the timid character Shelby Thorpe. Her character could have used a greater contrast between the beginning of the show and its conclusion. I enjoyed listening to Chaves’ singing voice, though throughout her song “When Hope Goes” she was consistently riding flat on her notes.

Scotty Beland as Sheriff Joe Sutter was charming and sweet. Despite a fumble in the number “Forest for the Trees” he managed to recover and press on. The costumes for Joe could have been more carefully constructed, though. A pristine and very RED nylon baseball cap caused his character to look very young and the sheriff’s star on his “uniform” appeared very plastic and tacky.

The set painting and dressing, by Larry Carbaugh and Marilyn Weaver, was terrific. It created just the right amount of depth and dimension with a comfortable clutter that perfectly captured the spirit of the Spitfire Grill. It would have been ideal for set designers Mark Holt and director Charla Rowe to create an additional set for Percy’s song “Shine;” the exact location of the scene was confusing.

Sheryl Fry’s lighting design was excellent. Every part of the stage was well lit, including a fun forest-y green gel used to emphasize the woods behind the Grill. The use of spots added two entrances and successfully expanded the size of the stage.

Spitfire’s orchestra was unusual, including a piano, guitar, mandolin, violin, and accordion. The sounds of the accordion and violin did not complement one another well. The song “Something’s Cooking at the Spitfire Grill” sounded like a train wreck, but other songs were executed without much of a hitch. Joe’s song “Forest for the Trees” had a fumble, but the orchestra recovered admirably and continued without further problems – Kudos!

The Spitfire Grill is a great feel-good production with some fun musical numbers, a superior cast, and a great creative team. Fans of the movie may feel cheated by the ending, but it still tells a great story. Especially good for older kids and grown-ups, this is a show the whole family can enjoy.

Director’s Notes

“There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There’s power enough in heaven,
To cure a sin-sick soul.”

These words from a Christian hymn may have inspired the name of the little, dying town of Gilead in The Spitfire Grill. They clearly evoke feelings that resonate in this play and its beautiful spare songs and music. Important ideas are not so much stated in the music and they are endemic in its rhythms and down-to-earth expressions of human emotions in day-to-day activities. I was struck so much by the show’s power to inspire that I was surprised to learn that it lasted just over a month in its off-Broadway 42d Street opening. Then I looked at the dates – September 7 to October 14, 2001 – in the teeth of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Broadway simply shut down on that day, and did not fully return for several months. Many new shows closed, never to reopen and The Spitire Grill was one. But there was some balm of Gilead in its immediate recognition by critics who reviewed its brief run. One wrote that it was “the heart and soul that your Producers and Full Monthys cannot begin to approach. What even in normal times would be a joy is, in these troubled one, sheer nourishment.” It received several Obie and Drama Desk Award nominations. Since its brief run in 2001, The Spitfire Grill has been seen all over the world in over 350 separate productions and has garnered numerous nomination and awards.

In view of the troubled times that plague our world, we can all hope that better times are ahead and we all need the redemptive balm of Gilead. I hope you will find nourishment at The Spitfire Grill.


  • Percy Talbott: Valerie Holt
  • Hannah Ferguson: Lani Novak
  • Shelby Thorpe: Roberta Chaves
  • Caleb Thorpe: Ron Sweeney
  • Sherriff Joe Sutter: Scotty Beland
  • Effy Krayneck: Pat Myers
  • The Visitor: Bob Chaves

Production Staff

  • Director: Charla Rowe
  • Producer: Larry Carbaugh
  • Stage Manager: John Battersby
  • Music Director: Robert K. Rausch
  • Set Design: Mark Holt, Charla Rowe
  • Lighting Design: Sheryl Fry
  • Sound and Light Operators: Harmony Hall Technical Staff
  • Costumes: Jeanette Vaughan
  • Props: Leslie Luense, Art Greene
  • Set Painting/Dressing: Larry Carbaugh, Marilyn Weaver
  • Set Construction:
  • Foreman: Mark Holt
  • Crew: George Roff, Larry Carbaugh
  • Publicity: Jivon Jackson
  • Program: Larry Carbaugh
  • Orchestra: Joe Gems (Piano), Rob Weaver (Guitar/Mandolin), Heidi Mickey (Violin), Anola Douglas (Accordion)

Disclaimer: Tantallon Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is a student of Speech and Communication at Northern Virginia Community College. She has been involved in the performing arts since the age of five when she debuted as the Little Red Hen on an elementary school stage. Her career includes both national and international ensemble performances with semi-professional choirs, various roles in community and college musicals (both onstage and off), as well as co-directing drama camp for Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA.

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