The Spitfire Grill: Movie to Musical

June 12, 2017

In 1995, an unassuming independent film took the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival. The Spitfire Grill was written and directed by Lee David Zlotoff (creator of MacGyver!), but the original idea for making the movie was the brain/heart child of Malcolm Roger Courts, long-time director and CEO of the Sacred Heart League. The non-profit organization was looking to finance a film and read  more than 200 screenplays before connecting with Zlotoff. By the end of 1994 the story was written, and The Spitfire Grill was born. At Sundance it was offered $10 Million on the spot by Castle Rock Entertainment, the largest sum ever paid outright for the rights to an independent feature film. Profits were used to construct a school for 450 children in Southhaven, Mississippi.

The story follows Percy, a young woman released from prison who literally takes a page from a travel book to make her way to the beautiful but dwindling town of Gilead. Hired as a waitress at the Spitfire Grill, (which has been on the market for years), she convinces the feisty owner to raffle off the restaurant for $100 per entry. As the raffle gains traction, both Percy's past and mysteries of the town are unearthed to ultimately bind the broken and revitalize a long-lost place with new purpose.

In 1999, Fred Valley and James Valcq (a writing team who had been friends since high-school music camp) were looking for a project. When they saw The Spitfire Grill, they were moved to adapt it for the stage with an all new original blue-grass and folk inspired score. The project was mentored by Arthur Laurents (West Side Story, Gypsy, The Way We Were, among others) who encouraged the team to find their own emotional truth in the material, which ultimately led to a different ending from the film. After a workshop at George Street Playhouse, the musical was commissioned for the 2000/2001 season at Playwright Horizons in New York and subsequently won the prestigious Richard Rodgers Production Award. Since then the musical has over 350 productions, not only in every major American city but across Canada, Germany, South Korea, Australia, and Japan.

The Spitfire Grill was created before the current craze of turning movies into musicals. Nowadays, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Lego Batman on Broadway. But The Spitfire Grill is a thing of itself: wholly adapted from the movie but astounding in its own right. You don't have to have seen the movie to be enraptured by this story. Likewise, if you have seen the film, there's something new in store: not only an alternate ending but a transcendent musical experience that takes the Spitfire from the screen and somehow expands the story.

The Spitfire Grill hits the spot. But you don’t have to take our word for it...

“A complete work of theatrical resourcefulness. A compelling story that flows with grace and carries the rush of anticipation. The warm, indigenous American Fold sound of Mr. Valcq’s score is, harmonically and melodically, as theatrical as it is grass roots… The musical is freeing. It is penetrated by honesty and it glows!”

- Alvin Klein, The New York Times

“The longing for a place like Gilead, well removed from the big, troublesome world, is real enough – perhaps now more than ever. The show’s creators tap into that longing with unembarrassed directness… Sophisticates may find themselves powerless to resist. Well before the show reaches its conclusion, many of the New York City Slickers in the audience may be ready to enter Percy’s raffle themselves.”

- Amy Gamerman, The Wall Street Journal

“An abundance of Warmth, Spirit and Goodwill!”

- USA Today

“Rich and Satisfying! Tender and Touching!” The country-tinged score fits like a favorite flannel shirt. Like the coffee cake served at the diner, The Spitfire Grill actually leaves you wanting a second helping.”

- Mark Sullivan, Billboard

“A soulful musical. The amiable country flavored tunes and lyrics are transcendant. It is not often that material moves me to tears, but this was one of those occasions… What even in normal times would be a joy is, in these troubled ones, sheer nourishment.”

- John Simon, New York Magazine

The Spitfire Grill: Movie to Musical

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