BWW Review: Paper Mill's PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES is a Tasty Bite of Comfort Food
Country and bluegrass music seems to be back in fashion around New York theatres, what with the recently opened Steve Martin/Edie Brickell Broadway tuner BRIGHT STAR, Roundabout's Off-Broadway revival of THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, The Atlantic's straight play about a country music superstar, HOLD ON TO ME DARLING and The Public's recent run of SOUTHERN COMFORT.
Across the Hudson, Paper Mill Playhouse has just opened up a dandy new mounting of what might be the most popular country and bluegrass musical to ever hit Broadway, PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES.
Written by its original cast members (John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann), PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES was a surprise hit in 1982, moving to Broadway's Princess Theatre after a brief stint Off-Broadway.
The plotless show is set in the Double Cupp Diner, a cozy 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 friendly flirting. 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, telling a no good man to be good or be gone and a chance encounter with Dolly Parton.
It's a laid-back, relaxed charmer with no greater ambition than to offer some cozy cheer and original cast member John Foley directs with a light and natural touch. The talented six-member cast looks like they're having a swell time and the feeling is mutual.
Making the biggest impression is Alysha Umphress, who regularly brought down the house singing of her culinary skills in the last Broadway revival of ON THE TOWN. Her sly comic finesse is matched with a thrilling vocal belt, especially when she lets loose with an extended second act riff. Julie Foldesi's appealing vocals are more of a casual country rock style, and she plays a mean harmonica.
James Barry, one of the emo rockers from Broadway's BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON is a hoot as guitar-strumming pump boy Jim, the host of the festivities. Sam Weber is the scruffy Eddie, who's apt to play his bass at any angle but right side up, Gabe Bowling is the young rocker who rips open his shirt for his big number and Jason Ostrowski is the heartbreaker introvert at piano.
Playing more like a concert than a musical, PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES doesn't exactly build to a finish. It pretty much just stops. But until it does, the service is fast and the meal is pretty tasty.