Refuge Theatre Project Presents an Earthy, Earnest “The Spitfire Grill”

As a hard-worn musical theatre nerd, it’s a very rare thing when I encounter a nearly two-decade old, critically praised musical in which I’ve neither seen the source material nor heard a single song. Needless to say, I entered Refuge Theatre Project’s The Spitfire Grill with delightful naiveté.

The Spitfire Grill – written by James Valcq (music and book) and Fred Alley (lyrics and book) and based on the 1996 film – is a show about second chances. Percy, a woman with a past, seeks refuge in a rural Wisconsin town. Out of necessity, she takes a job at the town’s only eating establishment – and local social hub – the Spitfire Grill. There, she heals her heart while helping those around her get uprooted from their daily patterns – intentionally or otherwise.

The cast of Refuge Theatre Project’s “The Spitfire Grill”

And, in short, I don’t think I’ll see a better production of this charming and disarming gem of a musical. Director Christopher Pazdernik has smartly staged this show in a functioning café located near Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. And lighting designer Collin Helou works magic, setting a tone without ignoring the necessary reality of the space. Music director Jon Schneidman makes Valcq’s deceptively simple  folk-heavy score breathe with life and beauty.

And the cast – one of the best ensembles I’ve seen. Most are new faces to me, and all are vocally adept while truthful to this tender material. Lauren Paris carries the bulk of the work as Percy, a former prisoner who’s hoping for a new beginning. Her work here is stunning, with many of her most emotional moments played just a few feet from a rapt audience. And Emily Goldberg as sweet Spitfire coworker Shelby sings like a dream while helping Percy mend her past to her future. And the fantastic Katherine Condit – a regular in many off-Loop Chicago productions – grounds the production as Hannah, the grill’s stalwart owner who’s nursing a broken heart (and a broken leg) as she seeks to sell the grill.

I can’t encourage you enough to check out this heartwarming musical.

“The Spitfire Grill” plays through May 5 at the Windy City Cafe, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm, and Monday, April 16 at 7pm. More info here> herhere:here

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