The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Elliot Owens as Joe Sutter, Michael Coppola as Caleb Thorpe and Sheree Owens as Percy Talbot. Robert Dionne photo.

See The Spitfire Grill

Where: Derry Opera House, 29 W. Broadway, Derry
When: Friday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 20, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 21, at 2 p.m.
Contact:, 669-7469
Admission: $20
Another production of The Spitfire Grill
Where: West End Studio Theatre, 959 Islington St., Portsmouth
When: Friday, Aug. 19, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 20, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 27, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 2, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 3, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Admission: $20
Contact:, 300-2986


Grounded in reality
The Spitfire Grill hits southern New Hampshire

By Kelly Sennott

 New Hampshire actress Katie Collins has been wanting to perform in The Spitfire Grill for years, and she finally gets her chance with The Majestic Theatre’s production at the Derry Opera House Aug. 19 through Aug. 21.

The Spitfire Grill — with music by James Valcq, lyrics by Fred Alley and book by the pair of them — is based on the 1996 film of the same name and depicts the journey of a woman, Percy, just released from prison who, inspired by an old travel book, decides to start her life anew in a rural Wisconsin town. She finds a place for herself working at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill, a restaurant for sale but with no takers. Percy suggests to the owner, Hannah Ferguson, that she raffle it off.
Collins said her friend Chris Courage first told her about the show five or six years ago. After listening to a couple of songs, she was hooked.
“[The songs] were different. They weren’t classically Broadway. But you could tell right away these were interesting people singing the songs,” said Collins, who plays Hannah, during a rehearsal at the Majestic Theatre rehearsal space two Wednesdays before showtime. “When I heard [Hannah’s] song for the first time — you could tell right away, this was a woman with some pain in her life.”
It was a part with substance, Collins said, which is sometimes hard to find in today’s theater scene. 
“I turned 50 this year. And it’s hard, sometimes, in theater to find shows that have really good parts for women once they get past the much-beloved 20- to 35-range. So often you’re comic relief or the doddering old lady. But with this — she’s just such a real, wonderful person, and that’s what I loved about it,” Collins said. “When [Artistic Director Rob Dionne] told me he wanted to do Spitfire Grill … I just grabbed his arm and said, ‘Are you kidding? Are you kidding?’ I was so excited.”
Collins is also the one who told Sheree Owens, who plays Percy Talbot, about the show.
“I like to jump on the shows that don’t come around very often. And the music is very different. It has a lot of folk inspiration in it,” said Owens, who spent a few years in high school and college performing in a Celtic rock band called Clan Du. “You can’t really do choreography in these numbers because they’re so grounded in reality. It’s not like Oklahoma!, where all of a sudden, 40 dancers just materialize out of nowhere. These are very real songs.”
This is what attracted director Merrill Peiffer to the production as well; it’s her first time with the Majestic, though theater people may know her for her performances with the Rep (A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline) or from playing Donna in the Broadway touring production of Mamma Mia! She first saw The Spitfire Grill at the Rep years back. In many ways, she said, it’s more like a play with music than a musical, made up of characters, not over-the-top caricatures, who all have arcs and grow throughout the story. There are no big costume changes or set pieces.
“It just struck a chord with me. It has since been one of my favorite shows,” Peiffer said. “I love its simplicity. It’s not shoving all these messages down your throat. It’s a story about human connection.”
In addition to Collins and Owens, the play features Owens’ husband, Elliot Owens, performing opposite her; Michael Coppola; Jessica Plummer; Kate Flower and Eric Skoglund, with musical direction by Keith Belanger.
Owens said she hopes audiences come to watch, even though it’s a lesser-known production. She compared it to going out to eat.
“Sometimes folks are hesitant to spend money on a ticket to a show they’ve never heard of because they don’t know what they’re in for. It’s kind of like going a new restaurant. They say, ‘Oh, maybe we’ll just go to the Olive Garden.’ But don’t go to the Oklahoma! Olive Garden. Don’t miss this one,” Owens said. 

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