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Review Roundup: Encores! Off-Center's PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES

Pump Boys and Dinettes, the final production of the 2014 Encores! Off-Center series, stars Jordan Dean, Hunter Foster, Mamie Parris, Randy Redd, Katie Thompson and Lorenzo Wolff. Pump Boys and Dinettes began performances last night, July 16.

Continuing through July 19, the production is directed by Lear deBessonet and choreographed by Danny Mefford. Jeanine Tesori is the Encores! Off-Center artistic director; Chris Fenwick is the music director.

Pump Boys and Dinettes was conceived, written and performed by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann. A hybrid of country, rock and pop music, Pump Boys is the story of four gas station attendants and two waitresses at a small-town dinette in North Carolina.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: The new production, featuring a cast of likable and versatile actor-musicians led by the veteran Hunter Foster, has been shined up nicely but still maintains a loose, down-home vibe...Although "Pump Boys and Dinettes" still makes for a genial entertainment...it naturally doesn't feel quite as fresh as it must have in 1981, before Broadway had become awash in musicals drawing on the rock and pop charts for inspiration...But while some of the novelty may have worn off, this glossy and good-natured production, directed by Lear deBessonet...still hums along like a vintage Mustang that's just had a full tuneup. Whether or not Broadway beckons -- and Lord knows the environment there has changed mightily since the 1980s -- there's plenty of mileage in this vehicle yet.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Can friendliness be baked into a song, the way peaches are in a pie? On the evidence of Pump Boys and Dinettes, the final presentation of the Encores! Off-Center series this summer, the answer is yes. More a country-music revue than a musical, Pump Boys offers a series of relentlessly ingratiating clap-alongs that melt sophistication as if it were a pat of butter on a steaming biscuit. Sorry for the grits-and-gravy imagery, but after sitting through the show's 19 numbers -- rockabilly paeans to roadside culture, a cappella hymns to catfishing, twangy odes to Mamaw, boot-scooting two-steps, and honkytonk declarations of a mostly notional ideal of female empowerment -- my New York brain is basically Southern-fried.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Foster, who's warm and folksy and plays a mean guitar, makes a tune about a beloved grandmother very sweet. Redd has magic fingers on the piano and shines on his goofy number about a farmer tan. Thompson's wonderful, whisky-flavored vocals are intoxicating on the insistent "Be Good or Be Gone." Parris packs yearning into "The Best Man" -- about the one that got away. Songs tick off with little talking in between. When characters do speak, it's often to theatergoers...The show loses steam in the second act and, in the end, isn't really about much in particular, except having a good ol' time. This Encores! Off-Center musical series presentation delivers in spades -- and spatulas and spoons.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: The charm, sadly, doesn't entirely come through in the show that opened Wednesday. The six actor/musicians in Lear deBessonet's production are all likable and game, even if Hunter Foster should ease up on the "good ol' boy" parts -- this is his third in a row. At the same time, the ensemble lacks star power and can't lift the pleasant but innocuous material...Donyale Werle's elaborate, tchotchke-filled set -- a combo of diner and gas station -- holds our attention more than the songs do.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Director Lear DeBessonet, who has won acclaim for her inventive work with the Public Theater, offers a cozy, friendly, unexpectedly intimate staging. That being said, the show, which runs 90 minutes even with an intermission, now feels underwhelming and underdeveloped. Without the original cast, its novelty value is gone. But in light the growing trend of immersive theater, a new production that places the audience literally within the gas station and diner might be successful. The cast could even serve coffee and pie.

David Finkle, The Huffington Post: Yes. Absolutely. No question. If you can get to City Center anytime through this weekend to see Pump Boys and Dinettes, which is the third and last of Encores! Off-Center summer series, go. It's way too entertaining to pass up...Everyone in attendance will have his or her favorite ditty...Thompson and Parris have voices that could get them hefty Nashville contracts. Jordan and Wolff aren't only proficient musicians but know how to get humor into their vigorous strumming. Redd offers honky-tonk piano that's so Jerry Lee Lewis you wish he'd bring out a CD. Then there's his accordion stretching. By now, theater audiences know the breadth of Foster's stage abilities, not a one scanted here.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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