BWW Reviews: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES Serves Up Twangy Charm

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New York is a city that constructs cathedrals to classical music, developed a neighborhood for showtunes and is liberally dotted with dives devoted to rock and jazz.

BWW Reviews: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES Serves Up Twangy Charm
Hunter Foster (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But country music? Gotham-based radio stations specializing the genre have rarely gained popularity (In 2013, WNSH-FM became the area's first country music station in 17 years.) and most locals would be hard-pressed to think of a venue that offers a steady diet of it.

Which is one reason why Pump Boys and Dinettes counts as one of Broadway's more surprising success stories, opening in 1982 and running for well over a year at the Princess Theatre after a brief stint Off-Broadway.

Written by its original cast members (John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann), the plotless show is set in the Double Cupp Diner, a cozy North Carolina roadside eatery across the street from an auto repair shop and gas station that happens to employ a quartet of musically inclined pump boys. A pair of dinettes provides vocals, as well as some do-it-yourself percussion using kitchen utensils.

Nineteen songs (and a reprise) are packed into two 40-minute sets, separated by some genial patter and a 15 minute intermission. The catchy, twangy score contains the expected assortment of bluegrass, country rock and gospel, with lyrics tackling such heavy issues as farmer's tans, fishing, the importance of tipping, needing a vacation and telling no good man to be good or be gone.

BWW Reviews: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES Serves Up Twangy Charm
Mamie Parris and Katie Thompson (Photo: Joan Marcus)

And as evidenced by director Lear deBessonet's light and breezy concert staging for Encores! Off-Center, Pump Boys and Dinettes is a real charmer.

Donyale Werle's heavily detailed unit set places us at a homey honky-tonk where Hunter Foster, whose neck grows redder with every new role he's been playing lately, takes his place center stage as the evening's dry-witted, acoustic guitar-playing host. He's joined by fellow guitarist Jordan Dean, bassist Lorenzo Wolff and, at piano, the eccentrically fun Randy Redd. (Austin Moorhead joins them at guitar, though he doesn't play a character.)

Honey-voiced Mamie Parris and brassy Katie Thompson are the Dinettes, tempting customers daily with their flirtatious smiles and deep-dish pies.

As far as this city boy can tell, the harmonies sound sweet and authentic under Chris Fenwick's music direction. If a show like Pump Boys and Dinettes was mounted on Broadway today, it would probably involve a cover band performing well-known hits, so it's quite refreshing to attend an evening of amusing obscurities. Too bad the seat in front of me was occupied because I definitely felt the urge to put my feet up and sit a spell.

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Michael Dale After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.


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