PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT WEEKEND: Olympic Theatre Arts stages ‘Spitfire Grill: A Musical’

SEQUIM — How does a woman remake her life?

When your small town feels old and gray, how do you taste its sweetness again?

Tonight, “The Spitfire Grill” — the folk- and bluegrass-tinged musical, not the movie — looks for the answers.

The show is set in Gilead, Wis., the rural outpost where the bus drops off Percy Talbott, a single woman fresh out of prison.

She’s in her late 20s, she’s on parole and she’s “an untamed rebel who’s not going to take anything from anybody,” says Cat Orsborn, the Sequim actress portraying Percy in the Olympic Theatre Arts production whose three-week run begins today.

The woman needs a job, of course, so she dives into cooking and waiting tables at the Spitfire Grill — Gilead’s lonely eatery.

Shelby (Alaynna Little), Hannah (Win Perman), the sheriff (Ron Graham) and the rest of the cast add generous flavor and song — and they spin out a story that feels altogether different from the “Spitfire” movie, says Lee Harwell, director of the OTA musical.

Harwell, a veteran actor and singer, confesses to being “in love with the show,” which opens tonight with a free champagne reception for patrons at 6:30 p.m. at Olympic Theatre Arts, 414 N. Sequim Ave.

Orsborn, in her first musical lead role, is having the time of her life.

Since the cast began rehearsing in November, “every single emotion you can possibly feel has been coming through,” she says. “To make [Percy] come alive, you have to put yourself out there . . . you have to expose a lot of yourself.”

Playing this young woman is “joyous and challenging,” Orsborn says, adding that Percy’s Southern roots — the character came from a West Virginia coal mining town, then lit out for the big city — aren’t so far from her own in Houston.

Orsborn, like Harwell, lives in Sequim now. Both can relate to the way Percy falls for the beauty and simplicity of Gilead, which is surrounded by forest.

This is also a story of redemption through human connection. Percy meets Eli (Peter Greene), a Vietnam veteran who hides out in the woods. They grow to trust each other, and he takes her for a walk and shows her the sunrise. It’s a sweet and pivotal moment, distilled into a song called “Shine.”

“The music is so beautifully written,” says Orsborn. It’s performed live, by guitarist and mandolinist Carl Honoré and keyboard player Darrell Plank.

“They are consummate professionals,” adds Harwell.

He marvels, too, at Little and Orsborn. Neither has much musical theater experience; both give heartfelt performances.

“Hearing them sing a couple of songs is worth the price of admission,” Harwell adds.

To Orsborn, Percy’s story holds out a much-needed gift: hope.

“The lesson is that people can grow out of a bad scenario,” she says. Percy lived through a series of harsh environments. Then, after five years in prison, she goes to a town where “everything has become stagnant,” as Orsborn puts it.

Harwell, for his part, sees “Spitfire” as the story of a community’s regeneration and a woman’s rebirth.

“Through Percy’s eyes, [the townspeople] can see their own existence in a whole new light,” he says. “It’s about being able to open your eyes and be grateful for your surroundings.”

He emphasizes that this production has little in common with the 1996 film.

“The movie was a downer. I walked out of the theater angry.”

“But this show is incredibly uplifting . . . and this cast of mine does an awesome job. I am just grateful to be given the opportunity to do this.”

“The Spitfire Grill” will run for three weekends, with curtain time at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 19. Tickets are $11.50 for students 16 and younger, $24.50 for OTA members and active military service members and $26.50 for general admission at www.OlympicTheatreArts.org or 360-683-7326.

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