BWW Reviews: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES Serves Up Twangy Charm
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.
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.
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.)
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.