Michael Guptill works through the winter to prepare Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick for the summer ahead. Courtesy photo


“If, after the events of recent weeks you need any reason at all to embrace life again, the musical you’ve been waiting for has arrived.”

Although these words were written by a national reviewer in 2011, that same musical called “The Spitfire Grill” is arriving at Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick to once again give audiences a reason to embrace life.

The story of a waitress in a small town diner, “The Spitfire Grill” will be the last of three shows just announced for Hackmatack’s 2020 summer season.

“Our audience members will walk away from this show singing the tunes and with a smile on their faces,” said Michael Guptill, owner of Hackmatack.

In fact, all three shows announced by Hackmatack for the upcoming season will give audiences plenty of reason to celebrate, Guptill promised.

The season will begin Wednesday, July 8 with “The Foreigner,” a belly-laugh comedy from 1983. Hackmatack will then feature the well-known musical hit, “Legally Blonde,” which will run from July 29 to Aug. 15 before closing with “The Spitfire Grill,” which runs through Sept. 3.

The summer of 2020 will also bring a new artistic director to Hackmatack. Danielle Howard of Dover, who has directed numerous shows at the theater, is taking over for Crystal Lisbon of Dover, who retired last summer.

Howard and Guptill picked these three shows to bring audiences a variety of music, surprises and laughs.

“We picked ‘The Foreigner’ because it’s so so funny and we haven’t done a knock-down, hilarious show like this for a few years,” said Guptill, promising “the tears will roll down your eyes.”

Written by Larry Shue, this two-act comedy tells the story of a shy Englishman on vacation at a fishing lodge in rural Georgia. After pretending not to speak English, he becomes privy to dangerous and frivolous secrets.

“The characters are incredibly funny,” said Howard. “It’s just a really funny comedy but with heart. It’s got a great story where you see the underdog win.”

The show, first produced in Milwaukee in 1983, was named by the American Theatre Critics Association as one of the best regional theater plays for that season. The play opened off-Broadway in 1984 at New York City’s Astor Place Theatre, where it ran for 686 performances.

Next up this summer in Berwick is “Legally Blonde,” a large-scale musical that will be Hackmatack’s cornerstone production. According to Guptill, “It’s fun, it’s lively, it’s full of dancing and upbeat music.”

Based on writer Amanda Brown’s real life experience, “Legally Blonde” follows the transformation of Elle Woods, a law student, as she tackles stereotypes and and scandals in pursuit of her dreams. Elle is a sorority girl, blonde of course, making her way in the world.

“It’s a fun show but it also has a really good message about staying true to yourself,” said Howard, who noted it has many great roles for women.

“Legally Blonde” was made into a movie in 2001 and then a Broadway musical in 2007.

To close the season, Hackmatack picked “The Spitfire Grill,” a small-stage musical that Guptill called a “lovely, lovely show … a sweet musical” that might remind people of “A Trip to Bountiful.’”

“I have been wanting to do ‘Spitfire Grill’ every year for the past 10 years and it just didn’t get on the schedule for one reason or another,” Guptill said. He described the music as “quite folky” and noted every character has a solo or a duet.

The musical tells the story of an elderly woman who owns a ramshackle diner she is hoping to sell. A young woman named Percy who was recently released from prison arrives in town and is hired as a waitress. Instead of selling the grill, Percy suggests they raffle it off for $100 and the best essay about why they should own the diner.

“The Spitfire Grill” started the real life craze several decades ago of people raffling off inns and restaurants, according to Guptill.

The 2001 Off-Broadway musical by James Valcq and Fred Alley was based on a 1996 film by Lee David Zlotoff. Although the show was set in Wisconsin, the original movie was in Maine and Hackmatack plans to bring it back to Maine.

“Spitfire Grill is an absolute gem of a show, a lovely intimate character-driven musical,” Howard said. “It is a wonderful story about forgiveness and second chances with great humor tucked in.”

As Howard sees it, this is “the meatiest piece of the summer” and also the biggest risk, as it is less known.

“People who know it, love it, but we hope other people will trust us and come out and see it,” she said.

Altogether, Guptill and Howard see the three shows as bringing a little something to everyone.

As Howard said, “We thought these three pieces provided a nice balance.”

Anyone who wants information on the shows, tickets, or a season Flexi-Pass, can call Hackmatack at 207-698-1807

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