BWW Review: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre

BWW Review: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre

  1. On Friday, February 16, I had the pleasure of experiencing the first country music musical that I have ever seen, PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin, CT. This comedic musical is written by the original Broadway cast that includes John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann. They also wrote the amazing music that is original for the show. As a show that originally ran in 1981, the music reflects country at its finest.

Director Kris McMurray has once again found a first rate cast and brought out the best in all of them. In this show, under the musical direction of TJ Thompson, the cast members play their own instruments, adding a whole new dimension to the feel.

The set depicts the inside of a gas station on stage right, with a piano in the middle, and the inside of a diner on stage left. Drummer Tim Urso is off stage left. This set up works excellently for the show, as it distinguishes the gas station from the diner, while simultaneously enabling the Pump Boys to easily interact with the Dinettes.

The storyline is mostly told through the music, but also includes some dialogue between the characters, and narration to the audience, from the characters, particularly from the character Jim, the rhythm guitarist and front man of the Pump Boys. Actor Timothy Barton brings Jim to life, drawing the audience into the show from the start, with an enthusiasm characteristic of a musician performing a concert before a large audience of fans. This approach works well, as the highly engaged audience loved the show, clapping along to the music at times.

Toni Galli gives an amazing performance as Jackson, the lead guitarist who also has lead vocals on some of the songs, and harmonizes very well with Timothy Barton, which is particularly showcased on the acapella number "Fisherman's Prayer." Tony Galli's stage presence and mannerisms totally sell the character.

Dan Pardo of Brooklyn excellently plays the character LM, who is mainly the piano player, but also plays accordion and does some lead singing, highlighted by the songs "Farmer Tan," and "The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine," which are both comedic and musically brilliant.

Jamie Sherwood plays Eddie, the bass player who is highly entertaining, including running the raffle, in which the fourth wall is broken beyond narration and an audience member is selected to win a prize.

The Pump Boys truly combine together with excellent stage chemistry and musical chemistry to the point that it is very easy to forget that we are seeing actors playing their own musical instruments, and feel as if we are instead seeing an experienced chart topping country band, performing a live concert.

In addition to being accompanied by the amazing drummer Tim Urso, who is a regular performer at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre, the Pump Boys also have two other musicians enhancing their sound by using tambourines and kitchen utensils as percussion instruments. Displaying a sharp sense of rhythm, and providing strong backing vocals, the Dinettes enhance the Pump Boys' sound.

Cindy Lesser plays Rhetta Cupp, showing powerful singing vocals, and providing a convincing and consistent southern drawl that truly sells the character. Her delivery on the line, "Thank you," after receiving an artificial rose from Jim, who she was justly mad at, can best be described as brilliantly appropriate for the situation, conveying a multitude of realistic emotions in just those two words. It had me laughing for about ten seconds.

Julie Lemos plays Prudie Cupp, Rhetta's sister who shares her southern drawl. Julie Lemos shows contagious enjoyment in playing her role, convincingly selling every line and note, while bringing positive energy that radiates forth to the crowd.

The dynamics between Cindy Lesser and Julie Lemos make them highly believable sisters, as well as convincing diner workers. They harmonize flawlessly with each other, as if they are real sisters who grew up singing together, with professional guidance on how to combine their voices to bring out the best in each other's voices, generating stunning harmony. The deeply moving ballad "Sister" that they sing together is an emotionally powerful moment that captures the audience, making us feel for both Rhetta and Prudie.

Another stellar musical number is "Mamaw," which totally captures the country sound of the early 1980s, and involves the entire company, with Jim as the lead vocalist, singing about his grandmother.

As someone who was not previously familiar with this show or the music, and had not previously seen the majority of these cast members perform before, I was deeply impressed all around, enjoying every moment of this show, as did the rest of the audience. I highly recommend PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES which is scheduled to continue to run at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin, CT, every Friday and Saturday at 8:00 P.M., through March 17, 2018. For tickets, please go to http://ctcabaret.com/.

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From This Author Sean Fallon

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