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Pump Boys and Dinettes

Work won't kill you, but worry will. — Jim Wenn, original writer and performer in Pump Boys and Dinettes .
Hunter Foster
Hunter Foster (Photo: Joan Marcus)
"Work won't kill you, but worry will." That's the easy livin' philosophy of Pump Boys and Dinettes, the final production of the 2014 Encores! Off-Center series. If you're motoring down Highway 57, somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, North Carolina, and you find yourself needing a diesel fill-up, here's a stop for you. It's not very busy these days and the gas station pump boys have adapted the motto of "Taking It Slow," but you'll hear some genuine country tunes while you wait. If a cup of coffee and piece of pie sounds tempting, well just cross on over to the Double Cupp Diner where two sassy waitresses are ready with homemade pies, free coffee refills and more songs. Either way, on this stretch of Highway 57, "You can eat and you can get gas."

Pump Boys and Dinettes is a homespun musical originally written and performed off-Broadway in 1981 by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann. One year later it moved to Broadway. Directed at City Center by Lear deBessonet, the mood remains old-fashioned high-energy and familiar tales sung and danced by the company. The Pump Boys are actor/musicians like Hunter Foster as Jim (guitar) leading a quartet with highlighted moments for Jordan Dean as Jackson (guitar), Randy Redd as L.M. on piano and accordion, and as Eddie, Lorenzo Wolff (bass). The Dinettes, Rhetta Cupp (Katie Thompson) and her sister Prudie Cupp (Mamie Parris) keep the beat with the closest kitchen utensils, spoons, pie pans, pots and plastic plates. Everyone joins together for most numbers on Donyale Werle's overloaded set, which is one big old patchwork of colorful country bric-a-brac, from Christmas lights and posters to a lighted Schaefer beer sign. Who cares if the gas station is supposed to be on one side of the highway and the Double Cupp diner on the other. No problem. Here they just join up.

This is a revue with no story to talk of and it runs briskly for 90 minutes with an intermission. This break is more of a time-filler but it gives the ebullient cast a few minutes to rest and includes a raffle where one lucky winner from the audience is called up for his prize. It's a selection from four air fresheners and on this evening, a young pianist from Boston was the winner. Jim's half-hearted invite offered him a chance to play but this pianist plays musical theater, so Jim hurried him off with, "We don't want any musical theater here."

There is plenty of rockabilly, some country-and-Western, 70's rock and odes to plaintive Tammy Wynette sentiments, like Mamie Parris's lament about her long lost love, "The Best Man." Sister Thompson's Rhetta shows no mercy in her demand to "Be Good or Be Gone." There is a dose of nostalgia in Hunter Foster's memories of "Mamaw" and home-grown honesty in "Sisters" ("I never did know you") by Thompson and Parris. The octane lifts with wishes for a "Vacation" in Florida and pianist, L.M., Randy Redd is an audience grabber with "T.N.D.P.W.A.M." ("The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine"). Redd also shines extolling the manly values of a "Farmer Tan."

Costume designer, Clint Ramos, dressed the Dinettes in cute turquoise dresses with pink trim and white aprons with ample pockets, handy to illustrate their rendition of "Tips." The mechanics wear blue-and-red and choreography by Danny Mefford keeps everyone moving to DeBessonet's precise pace.

All this makes for a polished production that is fun to look at but at the end, it is merely pleasant to hear. With the exception of Randy Redd's vocal deliveries about a bad tan and Dolly Parton, and his vibrant piano energy, the company does not ignite the stage. With no plot, they reveal little depth, coming across as stereotypical rednecks and wise-cracking waitresses. Too few of the lyrics sustain story-telling emotions and story-telling is the heart of country music. Finally, how much do you care about the love of fishing, catfish and home-baked pies?

It's fast, colorful and it's light listening but Pump Boys and Dinettes, is probably is not moving up the highway to Broadway.

Pump Boys and Dinettes
Book, Music, Lyrics by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Jim Wann, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel Jonathan Larson
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Cast: Jordan Dean, Hunter Foster, Mamie Parris, Randy Redd, Katie Thompson and Lorenzo Wolff
Music Director: Chris Fenwick
Choreography: Danny Mefford
Set Design: Donyale Werle
Costumes: Clint Ramos
Lighting: Mark Barton
Sound: Leon Rothenberg
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Production Stage Manager: Adam John Hunter.
Running Time: 90 minutes. No intermission
Theatre: Encores! Off-Center, City Center, 131 West 55th Street, NYC. 212-581-1212,
Tickets: Starting $90-$110 orchestra. $25 mezzanine and balcony. At Ticket Central (212-279-4200) or box office
Performances: Tues-Fri. at 7:30pm; Sat. at 2pm and 8pm.
Opens: 07/16/14. Closes: 07/19/14
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 07/17/14

Musical Numbers
Act One
    Highway 57 /Company
    Taking It Slow/Pump Boys
    Serve Yourself /L.M. and Company
    Menu Song /Dinettes and Company
    The Best Man /Dinettes and Company
    Fisherman's Prayer /Pump Boys
    Mamaw /Jim and Company
    Be Good or Be Gone /Rhetta Cupp
    Drinkin' Shoes) /Company
Act Two
Pump Boys/ Pump Boys
Mona / Jackson
T.N.D.P.W.A.M. (The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine)/ L.M.
Tips / Dinettes
Sister (Music and lyrics by Cass Morgan) / Dinettes
Vacation / Dinettes and Company
No Holds Barred / Company
Farmer Tan / L.M. and Dinettes
Highway 57 (Reprise) / Company
Closing Time / Company
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