Eric Ewan directed an excellent production of “The Spitfire Grill” for Corn Stock. The musical is about the journey of a young woman just released from prison who decides to start her life anew in a rural Wisconsin town. It is a small cast musical without any big production numbers which is in keeping with the small town Wisconsin setting. Mr. Ewan retired this spring from teaching and coaching the speech team at Pekin Community High School for the past 22 years during which time his teams won 17 regional and eight sectional titles and qualified 120 students for the state tournament competitions. An impressive achievement by any measure. Mr. Ewan’s efforts were greatly assisted by a talented group of performers, designers and musicians.
Heading the cast was Lana Warner, seen for years at Conklin’s Dinner Theatre. She played to perfection the feisty but secretive owner of the diner Hannah Ferguson. Her characterization and timing were a joy to watch. She also had the rare chance to show off her singing abilities which made for some of the most enjoyable moments in the show with her sincere and plaintive voice in “Forgotten Lullaby” in Act 1 and “Way Back Home” in Act 2. One could hear a pin drop following these songs, and that is not easily accomplished in a tent. Other vocal standouts were Sagan Drake and Jessica King as the two young women who would inherit the diner for the next generation. Their performances were moving and accomplished. Veteran actress Cheri Beever brought some comic relief to the show with her funny portrayal of the town busybody, a postal worker rumored to open other people’s mail to stay in the know. John Davis was the musical director and he put together an ensemble of keyboard and strings to create the haunting score of the show. The absence of brass in the score was appreciated. It was some of the best playing I have heard recently.
Gene Bourke designed and built the set, and it was up to his usual standards. Mr. Bourke is employed at Hampton’s as a kitchen designer, and he always brings that same degree of professionalism to his stage designs. One of the most overlooked areas of support is the person who is in charge of stage properties, which covers any object actors touch or hold. The great actress and teacher Uta Hagen always impressed on her students the importance of rehearsing with “props.” Some quip that some actors need props to prop up their performances. If that is the case, they could not do better than to get Karl Augspurger. His props were very well chosen and created authenticity for the set and production. Mr. Augspurger is usually before the footlights as an actor and singer and was very good a few years ago when he played the eccentric director Roger De Bris in “The Producers” opposite Mr. Ewan who played Max Bialystock.
Listeners who are tired of right wing talk, recycled rock or middle of the road NPR will find a new kind of radio station at WAZU- FM 90.7. It’s what is known as “community radio” and carries the most diverse and eclectic programming of any station in the Peoria market. A brief summary of programs includes: Alternative Radio, Outright Radio(gay issues), Hispanic ESL radio, Economic Update with Richard Wolff the Marxist economist, Background Briefing and Democracy Now (4-5 p.m. daily) as well as some really good music. The station recently played the audio track from Michael Moore’s latest film, “Where to Invade Next.” The station is having its first fund drive and information may be found at: give.wazufm.org.