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Denene Mulay Koch as Shelby, Brenda Cox as Hannah and Erin Oeschel as Percy in "The Spitfire Grill" at Farmers Alley Theatre beginning Oct. 5.
By Dana Casadei
Posted: Oct. 1, 2012 at 8:30 p.m.
KALAMAZOO – After audience members leave a show, they are often left with only a ticket stub and the memories of what they've just seen. But Farmers Alley Theatre's fifth season opener, "The Spitfire Grill," will have one special winner leaving with more than just a ticket for their collection.
"We thought in the spirit of the Spitfire we would hold an essay contest," said director Kathy Mulay. "It's not a raffle; you don't have to send in $100, although that might be a good fundraiser idea."
The contest will go on through the run of the show, which begins Friday, Oct. 5. The winner will get one 2012/13 season subscription and dinner for two at Mangia Mangia.
Participants will have 250 words or less to tell the judges, the four founders of the theater, how the arts enrich their life. Even though the contest is taking place at the Kalamazoo theater, contestants can write about any type of arts, ranging from dance to music back to theater.
"We're very proud of the art scene here in the Kalamazoo area," Mulay said.
Even though Mulay isn't going to be a judge, she has some thoughts on what it could take to win.
After being asked, she laughs for a brief second, then takes a few beats to answer before saying that her winning pick would simply be a letter that touched her and has something very special about it, making her understand how rich her life is because she lives in this community.
"I don't think that's (a winner) really easy to predict," Mulay said
As for the actual judges, she has a feeling that battling it out will be much like it is in the show, each picking a favorite and then going from there.
In the musical, with music and book by James Valcq and lyrics and book by Fred Alley, Spitfire Grill owner Hannah decides with a little help from her newest employee to have an essay contest where people can pay $100 and write why this place is so near and dear to their hearts.
According to Hannah's portrayer, Brenda Cox, who lovingly describes her as "a cranky, old broad," Hannah has been trying to sell the Spitfire Grill for almost 10 years, with no luck. Enter Percy, who has spent the last five years in prison and mysteriously enters the sleepy town. He tells her about an idea to raffle off the restaurant, leading to the contest mentioned above.
Cox, who came out of a 2006 retirement to partake in this show, said that this is the kind of role that actresses live for, getting to do a little bit of it all.
"(This is) one of the best theater experiences I've ever had," Cox said.
After hearing about the Farmers Alley Theatre and director Mulay from Teri Bibb, who had a lead role in last season's "The Light in the Piazza," playing the "fabulous" Hannah was a role she had to take. Not only does she get to do a little of it all, but this isn't your usual musical, giving the small rural Wisconsin town a bit more of an intimate feel.
"What I really love about this show is that it's unlike most musicals, in that at the heart of it there's a really good story," Mulay said. "It's a real gem of a score that people don't have an opportunity to see or hear very often."
It's a show, Mulay explained, that has viewers really taking something away with them when they leave.
And that's not including the possible prize.
SHOW DETAILS: "The Spitfire Grill" opens Friday, Oct. 5 at Farmers Alley Theatre, 221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo, and runs Thursday-Sunday, through Oct. 21. Tickets: $27-31. For information: 269-343-2727 or www.FarmersAlleyTheatre.com.
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