BWW Review: Original Cast of PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES Reunites at Feinstein's/54 Below for Energetic Concert
PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES was my first Broadway musical, so it not only holds a special place in my heart, but I still remember most of the lyrics. Running for 577 performances in 1982-83 and earning a Tony nomination for Best Musical, PUMP BOYS was "the little show that could" with just six cast members and a small set. But the characters and songs captured many fans who came out to relive the experience at Feinstein's/54 Below on July 22. (Andrea Martin was even in the audience at the early show.)
At the reunion, five members of the original cast performed the show almost in its entirety. The only person missing was the late Mark Hardwick, who sadly passed away at age 39 in 1993, just 10 years after PUMP BOYS was on the Great White Way. Taking over Hardwick's songs was Bob Stillman, a veteran of 10 Broadway shows, including DIRTY BLONDE and GREY GARDENS.
For most of the cast in 1982, PUMP BOYS and DINETTES was their Broadway debut, as well as their baby. They had developed and written the show together, and they also served as the musicians. For the majority of the four men in the show---Jim Wann, John Foley, John Schimmel, and Hardwick---it would be their only Broadway credit. For the two women in the cast, however, it would only be the beginning of their Broadway careers. Cass Morgan went on to appear in seven more shows, while Debra Monk was the breakout star, performing in 12 more and garnering a Tony Award for RED CURTAIN, as well as three more Tony nominations.
When the cast took the stage at Feinstein's/54 Below, they immediately went into character with the book's setups for the songs. They performed the full score without breaking the fourth wall until right before the show's finale, "Closing Time." At that point, Wann said his thank you's to a number of people, including those who have kept the show alive in productions around the country, and he also paid tribute to Hardwick.
Many of the cast members are nearly 70, so like the rest of us, age has taken a little bit of a toll on their voices---but only a little bit. Gray hair or not, they all looked and sounded terrific, bringing the same energy and comedy to the show that they did 35 years ago.
PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES is in many ways a tribute to the south and southern life, as it lovingly pokes fun at the way of life of ordinary gas station and diner owners on a highway in Georgia. Many of the songs are hilarious with a number of double entendres. Even the name of the diner is a double entendre: The Double Cupp. In "Serve Yourself," which was originally sung by Hardwick and performed with aplomb by Stillman at the reunion (who also played a mean piano), a mechanic tells women that he isn't interested: "Your tank is empty / You need some air / Woman, the hose is over there."
Because he took over Hardwick's role, Stillman got to sing the show's funniest numbers, and he filled Hardwick's ample shoes well. Besides "Serve Yourself," he performed "Dolly Parton" in which he sings about the night Dolly was almost his ("She said Mark / I guess she read my name from off my shirt") and "Farmer Tan" in which he brags about how women love his "brown arms, white chest, and red neck."
I wondered how Cass Morgan would manage on "Vacation," a song that's particularly demanding vocally. She's still got it, though, and managed to give it a lot of energy and vocal power. That song led into perhaps the show's biggest crowd-pleaser, "No Holds Barred," about the group's budget trip to Florida. The audience happily clapped along.
The song that brought down the house, though, was "Tips" sung by Morgan and Monk about how much, as waitresses, they love tips. One audience member even walked up to the stage and handed both women a couple of dollar bills, which they gladly took and played along.
At the end of the evening, Wann put his hands on his heart as the audience cheered and stood up. He looked visibly moved to see how much his show has remained beloved for so many years. PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES is a feel-good show with great characters, catchy songs, and lots of laughs. Back in 1982, Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times that the show "doesn't merely celebrate the value of friendship and life's simple pleasures; it embodies them."
Encores at New York City Center staged the show in 2014, but that's the only New York production since 1983. While most musicals on Broadway are extravaganzas these days, could the success of ONCE and THE BAND'S VISIT foretell a revival of PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES on Broadway? Well, I can hope.
Melanie Votaw is a full-time freelance writer who has written 28 books. She covers travel, as well as theater, dance, and cabaret for Broadway World. Follow her on Twitter @melanievotaw.