Hannegan Roseberry, Zachary Hebert, & Amy Miller. Photo: TheatreWorks of SoIn
Pump Boys and Dinettes
Music, lyrics, & book by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan,
John Schimmel, & Jim Wann
Directed by Chris Bundy
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020, by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Sometimes knowing the origin of a show can be insightful. Urinetown was created by young theatre artists in the downtime they found touring Europe. Pump Boys and Dinettes sprung from the imagination of Jim Wann and Mark Hardwick, two out-of-work musicians/actors who were working at a cowboy bar in New York City.
The score is surprisingly nimble, clever, light, and breezy, easily passing the litmus test of tunes you will be humming as you leave the theatre. The show is so featherweight and devoid of a plot but the songs and cornpone-with-edge sense of humor make it easily engaging.
It also seems important to recognize that the rural southern perspective is a put-on, because while Pump Boys and Dinettes doesn’t exactly feel dated it does harmlessly celebrate a specifically white, redneck sensibility and the lunkhead guys and sassy gals that exemplify it. The show tidily sidesteps the deeper implications of its context. Poverty, racism, sexism and the other unpleasant realities of life along Highway 57 are not to be found in this genial, inoffensive entertainment.
Yet the high energy and spirit of the talented cast and musicians cannot be denied. At their best, they deliver the material as a nod to tradition but also with their own unique stamp on it. Greg Collier’s “Serve Yourself” is a riotous declaration of lethargy and indifference, and he is even better with a second act to a particular country music icon. Zachary Hebert does a torrid rendition of “Mona”, a comic love song about a broom, and Jason Roseberry sensitively sings of the love of his “Mamaw”. They are the Pump Boys, and they also have several songs together that show off their vocal harmonies. Credit to Music Director Hannegan Roseberry.
Ms. Roseberry also plays Rhetta Cupp, who along with Amy Miller as sister Prudie Cupp, are the Dinettes who run The Double Cupp diner across the road from the service station. Roseberry tears it up on “Be Good Or Be Gone”, in which Rhetta demands loyalty and allegiance from any man who looks her way, while Ms. Miller’s spotlight number is a mournful lament about “The Best Man” that got away.
Miller also does double duty as choreographer, and the steps are livelier than one might expect on the relatively contained space available. Director Chris Bundy is also designed the set (does anyone in this company do only one thing?) and he once again does wonders creating the illusion of more space than the shallow stage could possibly allow, filling it with so much detail that he must have raided every antique shop in south-central Indiana. The “Gator’s Towing Service” sign was my favorite.
A deft three-piece band consisting of Dan Canon (guitar), Blue Murphy (bass), and Nina Espinueva (keyboard) nicely flesh out the accompaniment with enough flavors to avoid blandness.
If uncomplicated fun is what you seek, Pump Boys and Dinettes will prove a winning experience. As much as it quotes southern culture, I think it avoids acme of the hoary Hee Haw clichés by building a slightly broader American Heartland context for these characters. It’s a trickier balancing act than I was expecting from this show. Although it lacks thematic depth, it is a well-crafted musical that makes a virtue of its limitations.
Pump Boys and Dinettes
February 5-8, February 12-15 @ 7:30
February 9 & February 16 @ 2:00
TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.
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