Hot Off the Grill

There must be a faint rumbling emanating from Charles Dickens's grave during the month of December. Given the number of stale Christmas Carol productions that get mounted this time of year, he must spend all 31 days spinning in his coffin. Fortunately, the folks at Stages Repertory Theatre are offering up The Spitfire Grill, which, while having a Dickensian theme of yuletide redemption, stays far away from gloomy London.

"The Spitfire Grill is a very serious story with a serious message," says Brad Dalton, who directed James Valcq and Fred Alley's musical, set in Gilead, Wisconsin. But, says Dalton, "It's also a very entertaining musical and very lighthearted in certain parts."

Dalton says he was inspired by the show's Appalachian-style score. "It's got violin, cello, guitar, piano and accordion," he says. "There's a very folksy simplicity and directness to it. That's what drew me to the piece. It just gave me chills."

Spitfire tells the story of "a town that has experienced a moment that was kind of their September 11, which was when they lost a citizen of their town to the Vietnam War, and they've never fully recovered," says Dalton. They live a "dead cold rotten life in the Wisconsin winters," he adds. "They've lost all their sense of hope."

But a hint of redemption comes with the arrival of Percy, a young girl just released from prison. Inspired by an article she read in a travel magazine, Percy comes to Gilead with no friends or prospects. But when she takes a job at the Spitfire Grill, she slowly awakens the dreams and passions of everyone around her. "She leads them to a renewal of their own lives in a very kind of Zen way," says Dalton. "It's the idea that paradise lies right in front of you, if you could just open your eyes and see it." Hmm, is it us, or did that rumbling sound just stop?

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Lee Williams