NWACC brings back musical theater with ‘The Spitfire Grill’

NWACC brings back musical theater with ‘The Spitfire Grill’

The Orange County (Calif.) Register says “The Spitfire Grill” “channels the tone, if not substance, of musicals like ‘Once’ and ‘Come From Away.’”

Northwest Arkansas audiences might think instead of “Sundown Town,” playwright Kevin Cohea’s 2011 musical at TheatreSquared. Like “Sundown Town,” “The Spitfire Grill” is the story of a visitor no one really wants in their community, and the havoc that wreaks. And, according to New York Magazine, it comes with”country-flavored tunes” and “transcendent” lyrics plus “the heart and soul that your ‘Producers’ and ‘Full Montys’ cannot begin to approach.”

“What even in normal times would be a joy is, in these troubled ones, sheer nourishment.”

The April 25-28 production of “The Spitfire Grill” — based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff — is unique, however. A collaboration between the music department and the theater department, it is the first musical on the Northwest Arkansas Community College stage in 11 years.

“It’s just the perfect show for our cast,” says theater program coordinator Stephanie Freeman. “A beautiful hidden gem of a musical with a lot of heart!”

“I’m so excited to be working on this with Stephanie and Traci Hall, our collaborative pianist,”adds Freda Goodman, voice professor, director of the NWACC Chamber Singers and music director for the show. “We have a collaboration of NWACC students, community artists and a University of Arkansas musician. This is sure to be something you’ll want to include on your bucket list!”

The story starts with the release from prison of Percy Talbott, played by NWACC student Jordyn Bunting. Percy has selected from a prison library travel guide the town of Gilead, Wis., to start her new life. Too bad there’s not much there but The Spitfire Grill, run by a “hard-bitten but lovable elderly woman” named Hannah Ferguson, portrayed by NWACC library administrator Jadzia Craft. (Yes, her dad was a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan, she says.)

Freeman says she fell in love with the show when she saw it at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival last year and thought it would work for two smallish collegiate programs. Preparations for the show began in October, followed after Christmas by eight weeks of music work with Goodman and Hall, then full rehearsals with staging in mid-March.

“I want audiences to be blown away by the talent on display in our little corner of Northwest Arkansas and also perhaps become aware that musical theater truly has a spectrum of different musical genres,” Freeman says. “This one happens to have gorgeous folk selections, but also a little flavor of Golden Age Broadway.

And “Jordyn is amazing,” she adds. “She has an incredible range with a textured, pop voice. Incredible!”

Bunting says she fell in love with acting first — “something about getting paid to play pretend enticed me as a kid” — and was trained vocally by her mother, “an amazing singer” in her own right.

“Growing up I always wanted to be on stage, whether it was dancing, singing, acting or modeling,” she says. “That passion has stayed with me since, and now I hope to make that little girl who once watched Disney with awe proud.”

Craft says her “ferocious” love for theater was born seeing a production of “Once on This Island” when she was in eighth grade. She admits she was bullied out of performing in high school, but “the passion never died out.”

“Back when I started at NWACC, I decided that it was finally time to work my way into theater,” Craft picks up her story. “Freda Goodman and Traci Hall … created this safe and fun environment where I have been able to grow my voice and express myself without ever being afraid of judgment … and my voice has blossomed into an amazing instrument. All thanks to them.”

“It’s been so much fun working on this show,” Freeman says. “We’ve made a lovely found family out of cast, designers and crew members.”



‘The Spitfire Grill’

WHEN — 7 p.m. April 25-27; 1 p.m. April 28

WHERE — White Auditorium, Burns Hall, on the NorthWest Arkansas Community College campus in Bentonville

COST — $15 at the door

INFO — Email sfreeman7@nwacc.edu

Categories: Theater