Pump Boys And Dinettes

Written and conceived by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann
Directed by Adam Gerdts & Laura Standley
Ground Up Productions
Manhattan Theatre Source
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Charles Battersby

Pump Boys And Dinettes is the kind of show that you pretty much have to enjoy. A Broadway hit two decades ago, and the launching point for the careers of Cass Morgan and Debra Monk, it’s filled with catchy numbers, and a goofy down-home sense of humor.

There's not a whole lot of plot to it; it's essentially a series of country & western songs held together by the anecdotes of the folk who work at a roadside diner/gas station. It's equal parts a celebration of Americana, and a gentle parody of redneck culture (it first hit Broadway in 1982, when “The Dukes of Hazard” was the second most popular show on TV).

The four good old boys who man the gas station call themselves the Pump Boys, and the two sassy gals who run the diner are the Dinettes. They tell stories of their simple, Middle American lives, and sing songs about such things as fishing, life on the highway, and their love for Dolly Parton. A loose plot involving the various romances between the characters gives a bit of structure to the show (plus a running gag about “Uncle Bob”’s RV), but all that is just to provide the characters with excuses to sing. This is just fine, since there are quite a few memorable songs in the show, especially the one called “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine.”

The up-and-coming theatre company, Ground Up Productions, gave it a good turn. There was an excellent cast, and high production values, with a good sense of professionalism. They designed a darn spiffy set (un-credited), which is cluttered with authentic junk that might very well have been found at a roadside gas station (the piano itself was disguised as a broken-down car, with a pair of old tires on the sides, and a rusty bumper facing the audience). There was even an old gas pump on the stairway leading up to the theatre. The costumes were right on the spot, too, with the dinettes in tacky pink waitress uniforms, and the Pump Boys in blue-collar gas station uniforms (with their names embroidered on the pocket.

There was an all-around great cast, including Franklin Golden, Zeb Holt, Michael Hicks, and Mitch Rothrock as the Pump Boys, and Kate Middleton and Amy Heidt as the Dinettes. The cast also played all the music for the show, with the Pump Boys on guitar, piano, and accordion; plus a cowbell (“More Cowbell!”), and the Dinettes providing percussion.

Direction by Laura Standley (With “Directing Consultant” Adam Gerdts) brought out the Middle-American charm of the piece. There’s a lot of audience interaction in the piece, so keeping these Red State folk likable is vital, and was perfectly accomplished in this production. The Pump Boys’ instruments occupied most of the stage, leaving only a small playing space, but Standley managed to squeeze a lot of activity on that stage.

Pump Boys and& Dinettes doesn't get produced in New York as often as it ough to be, and this production was certainly something to see for anyone looking for a down-home good time.

Box Score:

Book: 1/Music: 2/Lyrics: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2006 Charles Battersby