By: Paulanne Simmons
Those of us who frequently see the very fine Encores! musical revivals are used to having the musicians onstage. Most of the time, they play their instruments, and that’s about it. Pump Boys and Dinettes, however, is a very different kind of show.
Written by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann, Pump Boys and Dinettes was also performed by its creators. It first opened at the Chelsea West Side Arts Theatre in 1981, moved to the Colonnades Theatre in Greenwich village later in the year and finally made it to Broadway in February 1982.
Although the musical kept getting more and more respectability, it always reflected its modest beginnings. And even now that it is venerable enough to receive an Encores! staging, it easily keeps its simple charm.
This final production of the 2014 Encores! Off-Center series is directed by Lear deBessonet and choreographed by Danny Mefford. Even with such a talented cast, one imagines they must have worked very hard to make the show seem so spontaneous.
Jordan Dean, Hunter Foster, Randy Redd, and Lorenzo Wolff play the four men who work at the gas station, while Mamie Parris and Katie Thompson are the two waitresses at the Double Cupp Diner. They not only belt out their songs, but also accompany themselves on guitar, piano, bass, fiddle, accordion, and kitchen utensils.
Donyale Werle’s set looks appropriately slapped together, on one side, strewn with the refuse of a garage and on the other, the serving and cooking implements of a diner. Even those who have never been on Highway 57 will recognize the cheap counter, the vinyl covered stools and the grease stained rags.
Hunter Foster, who heads up the cast, has already proved he’s comfortable in red-neck country in The Bridges of Madison County. As MC he keeps the show moving, tells jokes and interacts with the audience. Redd is especially convincing as he pounds the piano in a style reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis.
The feisty Thompson and Parris alternate between teasing and flirting with the pump boys. They may all share a hard life, but it’s the women who have to be careful.
The score of Pump Boys and Dinettes, a combination of country, rock and pop, features songs that talk about these people’s lives: "Fisherman’s Prayer," "Tips," "Vacation," "Closing Time." These are the lives many of us might have lived if someone hadn’t decided to move to the Big Apple.
Pump Boys and Dinettes, City Center, 131 West 55th Street, July 16 – 19.