BWW Interview: Reed Halvorson, Director of PUMP BOYS & DINETTES at Mill Town Players
I'll never forget the first time I heard Pump Boys and Dinettes.
The year was Nineteen Eightymumble and I was working at a barn theatre deep in the Texas hill country. Our director decided we needed to hear some new music while we built the set and we were all instantly transported to "Highway 57." That music became indelibly connected to that summer (along with the wall inside the barn where we tallied how many scorpions we'd seen - I think our total was 17).
Starting March 29, Mill Town Players brings Pump Boys and Dinettes to the Historic Pelzer Auditorium, introducing us again to the friendly gas station attendants and diner waitresses on Highway 57. I asked director Reed Halvorson to tell us about his vision for the show.
I love the music so much and look forward to finally seeing it performed. What was your first experience with the show?
I've heard this title floating around a lot. My buddy, Michael Hart who I play music with, did it in the Columbia, SC area a while back. He kept telling me it was an ideal show for Mill Town, since it was a big hit when he did it. I looked up the music on YouTube and iTunes and enjoyed every song. Then, in an informal poll on Facebook, Will Ragland inquired about shows for Mill Town, I posted it. I didn't know I was somehow putting my name in to direct, but I'm sure glad I am. These songs have been stuck in my head, my students are constantly wondering what I'm humming the past month.
How would you describe the show for someone unfamiliar with it?
It's not a plot heavy show, it's more in line with a jukebox musical. The unique twist on that, is all the music is original country rock music based around a gas station (Pump Boys) and a Diner (Dinettes) on Highway 57. They all sing songs about blue-collar life with a southern flair filled with humor and heart. A combination of group, duets, and solos of song original to this show, but all seem somehow familiar. I am excited about some of the creative takes we've come up with to bring these songs to life. I believe they are pretty unique and entertaining interpretations of the songs. It all adds up to a road trip you won't be disappointed you made.
Pump Boys typically requires the performers to have multiple talents. Do you have a band accompanying the cast? How hard was it to put together this ensemble?
The cast support the play with some short scenes, choreography, and fantastic vocals. Harmonies abound both in acapella and supported by a live band. Austin Finley as Jim and Austin Smith as Jackson play acoustic and electric guitar, David Sims as Eddie plays bass. Kip Brock is on Drums, and David Watson plays piano. Mark Spung-Wiles as LM is all over the place including auxiliary percussion along with Hannah Morton as Rhetta Cupp and Kelly Davis as Prudie Cupp singing, dancing, and playing percussion on real pots and pans. When it came to finding this talent, I'll admit we did have to do a little searching when some last minute casting issues popped up right as we were going to start rehearsal. This could have been disheartening, but between myself, Josh Morton the Music Director, and Will, we managed to put together a great cast and band that have worked extremely hard and gelled beautifully. We've done a lot of great work in a short amount of time and had an absolute blast doing it. The musicianship has been extremely impressive.
Tell us a little about the main performers and key production folks.
The entire cast has been so wonderful to work with. Both Austins are so easy-going and talented. They play, sing, and bring the songs to life with ease. Austin Finley is making his stage debut, but he actually went to high school with Hannah Morton. They've been friends for years, and let me tell you, no one will be able to tell this is his first show. That's community theatre, when someone who lives 15 minutes away can suddenly show up and be a natural fit onstage. Both Austin Smith and Mark bring so much joy and energy during performance and in between rehearsal. The two ladies, Kelly and Hannah, have voices that are very different but blend beautifully. They also have incredible ears for harmonies. Will has designed an authentic blending of a gas station and diner and Abby Brown's scenic painting can't be raved about enough. Tony Penna will be painting the stage with light in his usual subtle brilliance and Rachel Hawks has done a great job putting authentic costumes together. We wouldn't be where we are today without the impeccable Stage Management team of Sims Hall and Nancy Burkard. My favorite part is working with so many friends on this show. It's been too long since I've worked with Josh and it's reminded me how efficient and brilliant he is as a musical director.
What do you hope audiences will take away with them from this show?
Theatrical escape. A simple, but believable story to give the infectious country rock songs a platform to engage the audience that will relate to much of the songs. A great slice of life served a la mode at the Double Cupp diner that will Pump you up on our humble little bit of musical heaven on Highway 57. So come on down!
Pump Boys and Dinettes runs March 29 - April 14 at Mill Town Players in Pelzer, SC. For tickets and showtimes call the box office at (864) 947-8000 or visit milltownplayers.org.