Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES is Chock Full of Southern Charm, Song and Dance

Review: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES is Chock Full of Southern Charm, Song and Dance

PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES is a Tony nominated 1981 musical written by the performance group of the same name. The group, Pump Boys and Dinettes, consisted of John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann. The members also jointly directed and starred in the original Broadway production. The show is basically a series of standalone songs rather than a conventional story tied together with music. The book for this musical is very thin and really only exists to get to the next song. Each song represents some element of small-town life: the sacredness of fishing, the fun of owning a pair of "Drinkin Shoes," and other assorted blue collar tales including growing up with with their grandma, whom they called Mamaw. The company tosses off 21 short-form songs with performances that harken back to simpler, more straight forward times with good natured knee-slapping, song, dance and humor. They shatter the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience and eventually coming right out into it and the end result is a refreshing blast from the past.

PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES was the first of a series of small cast musicals where the performers and musicians were one and the same. The same team, with the addition of Mary Murfitt, wrote Oil City Symphony and later, Murfitt wrote Cowgirls. It is not a big stretch to say these shows preceded the juke box musicals of today. The influence on current jukebox musicals such as Million Dollar Quartet and Forever Plaid is obvious. It's goofy and filled with gentle platitudes: "Work won't kill you, but worry will," says Jim, the pump boy with the most grease-monkey charisma.

Functioning more as loose-fitting concert performance than carefully plotted musical story, PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES has no story to speak of, exhibits no character development, possesses no real depth, and never bothers to even have any actual pump or diner customers save on the phone. It exists simply to entertain...and there's nothing wrong with that.

The musical tells the story of three grease monkeys (originally written as four men) who work at a gas station and two waitresses (sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp) at the Double Cupp Diner, a dinette, located somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, North Carolina. There are references to Pflugerville being "right down the road", but since it's all in good fun you don't really find yourself questioning the logic. The music ranges from country to pop to blues all performed by a combo on guitars, piano, bass and assorted kitchen utensils. The show was written to have the performers also play the instruments. In this production, the combo is dressed to be more crew at the gas station, which frees the performers to dance.

Director Lannie Hilbold has infused this piece with southern country charm and Jesse Smart has provided some great choreography. Jonathan Borden, Music Director, gets a great sound from the seven member onstage band and the cast; however, at times the band drowns out the singers. This was especially problematic for the Cupp sisters on opening night. Barbara Sperberg's costumes are charmingly blue collar, but the fake tattoo sleeves worn by Jackson (for no scriptural reason) were pretty obviously fake and if Jim is walking into Woolworths, Apple watches like the one Jackson was sporting didn't exist yet.

The set design from Ron Watson and Lannie Hilboldt is a country throwback delight with some great scenic artwork by Gretchen Johnston. I also must commend properties by Rebecca McPherson for among them were some delicious looking fake if I can just figure out why the girls held up a fake cake when they were singing about how proud they were of their pies...

The Georgetown Palace production of PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES features Michael Rafferty in the role of LM; Leah Knight as Jackson; Wil Pintauro-Tabares as Jim; Ann Richards as Prudie Cupp; and Jane Schwartz as her sister, Rhetta Cupp. Wil Pintauro-Tabares is a triple threat charmer as Jim. He has a smile that is absolutely disarming, a gentle yet strong voice and proves he's also no slouch as a dancer. Michael Rafferty as LM has most of the comedic numbers which he handles with aplomb. Rounding out the Pump Boys is Leah Knight as Jackson. The harmonies amongst these three are a real highlight of this production, especially in the acapella "Fisherman's Prayer". Other musical highlights are "Drinkin' Shoes", and a song about 'a dime store dream' that was unfortunately left off the program songlist. The Cupp sisters are Prudie played by Ann Richards and Rhetta played by Jane Schwartz. On opening night, the Cupp sisters were plagued by sound problems, often being drowned out by the band, which I am sure by now is a problem the staff has under control. They do have one of the musical highlights with their song "Tips".

For a certain audience happy to wallow in shaggy-dog jokiness, this show still hits its mark. It might be possible not to enjoy PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, the honky-tonk musical receiving a high octane production at The Georgetown Palace, but you'd have to be an ill-tempered curmudgeon to do so. Sure, there's no real story, barely a libretto, the characters are one-dimensional and it boasts no loftier ambitions than to please and entertain. But, at heart, it is also good-natured, high-spirited, refreshingly unpretentious and a rollicking good time.

PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, Book, Music and Lyrics by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann.
Running Time: One Hour and Forty Five Minutes, including intermission.

PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, produced by The Georgetown Palace (810 South Austin Avenue, Georgetown, TX, 78626).

Fridays-Sundays, February 01 - February 24, 2019 @ 7:30 PM evenings at 2:30 PM on matinees.
Get tickets at or by calling the Palace Office at 512-869-7469.
Ticket Prices:
Adult-$32, Seniors (55+) / Military / Students-$29, Children (13 & younger) $15
*$1 ticketing fee will be added per ticket at checkout.
**Student Rush Tickets $18 at the door with student ID.
For Special Needs Seating (wheelchairs, walkers, no stairs, etc.) you must call the Box Office for reservations at (512) 869 - 7469.

From This Author - Frank Benge

A Kansas native, Frank Benge has been involved in the Austin area theatre scene as a Director, Designer, Writer and Performer for the past 20 years. He holds a double BA in Theatre and English from... (read more about this author)