BWW Review: PUMP BOYS & DINETTES Serves Up Nostalgia with a Smile
For those wishing to take a trip back to a simpler era, Biddeford City Theater's production of Pump Boys & Dinettes serves up a wistful, warm slice of nostalgia together with a foot-tapping country musical score that is guaranteed to leave the audience smiling and singing along.
The 1980s juke box musical written by members of the band of the same name (John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, Jim Wann) is set in a small North Carolina town on Highway 57 where four men who work at a gas station and two waitresses who run the adjacent Double Cupp Diner tell stories and jam on guitars, piano, bass, and kitchen utensils. The tunes are vintage country rock, filled with humor, heartache, a longing for the adventures of the road, and the flavors of small town southern life. Anchored by the show's remarkable music director, Kevin Smith, on piano, the seven-person cast sings, dances, and plays their heart out.
Linda Sturdivant's talent for creating a cohesive ensemble is once again in evidence in her direction of the show. With help from choreographer Mariel Roy, she keeps the action lively and substitutes energy and gusto for the absence of a real story line. The physical production is lovely to look at with a spot-on retro set by Karl Carrigan (with props and set dressing by Peter Salsbury) in pinks and greens for the dinette and weather-beaten browns for the gas station. Lighting designer Daniel Brodhead uses a colorful, rapidly changing, atmospheric palette to vary the mood, and Barbara Kelly conjures up the era in the period costumes. Sound designer Todd Hutchisen grapples valiantly with the challenge of clarity in the opera house's less than perfect acoustics for amplified music. All the production elements - including the charming device of serving apple pie on stage at the interval - come together to create an intimate and embracing experience that welcomes the audience into the production and the era.
Joel Crowley gives an animated, charismatic account of the extroverted Jim coupling a hard driving lead singer vocal performance with assured guitar playing. Kevin Smith, in addition to his virtuoso piano playing, offers several vocal highlights, among them "The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine." Kelsey Franklin as Rhetta Cupp and Sara Sturdivant as Prudie Cupp make a delightful pair of singing Dinettes - sassy and sweet - and their numbers like the touching "Sisters" or the cheeky "Tips" are memorable. Jason Phillips adds his performance on bass and his polished tenor to numbers like "Mona," while Josh Adams on drums and Brian Callaghan on lead guitar effectively round out the ensemble.
Pump Boys & Dinettes invites its audience to take a road trip to another time and place, to hum the soundtrack of a simpler life, to taste the homemade pie, and to remember nostalgically an America of faded postcards and memories.
Photo courtesy Biddeford City Theater
Pump Boys & Dinettes runs at Biddeford's City Theater, 205 Main Street, Bidddeford, ME from March 10-26, 2017. 207-282-0849 www.citytheater.org