Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Pump Boys and Dinettes
The musical opened on Broadway in 1982 and was written by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann, all of whom starred in the original production. It tells the story of the men who work at a gas station and auto body shop and the two sisters who run the diner across a quiet strip of Highway 57. The characters sing about their life experiences, including romance, work, vacations, and their love of their grandmas and fishing. While the plot is slight, and nothing earth-shattering truly happens, the numbers combine to create a slice of life in small-town America.
Pump Boys and Dinettes may be simple and slightly hokey, and more like a concert than a traditional musical, but it is still fun, upbeat and charming. While it is a short show, running just over 90 minutes, having the entire cast double as the musicians is a nice touch that not only shows off their immense musical talents but also makes the final product much more enjoyable than if they were just singing to an offstage band.
Director D. Scott Withers clearly understands the demands of a minimalistic show like this and that you need to play up the charm and energy to make sure the slightness of the show isn't too apparent. He's aided by choreographer Laurie Trygg's fun and buoyant dance steps and Alan Plado's music direction that delivers bright vocals and rich sounds from the actor-musicians, especially on a few a capella songs.
Withers has assembled a very talented cast. Cody Craven is Jim, who serves as the narrator of the show, and Nick Moulton is Jackson, Jim's playful worker at the Pump Boys' gas station. Craven's clear singing voice delivers some beautiful, bright notes on his solos while Moulton's rambunctious playfulness as he bounces around the stage is infectious. Both men also expertly play various guitars with ease. As sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp, who own the Double Cupp diner, Emily Mulligan-Ferry and Cassie Chilton are full of spunk, sass, and soaring singing voices.
In addition to music directing the show, Plado also plays Jim's partner in the shop, L. M., plays the onstage keyboard, and also gets to show off his fun tap dancing skills on one number. Alex Crossland plays the drums and also portrays Eddie, another worker at the gas station. While Crossland is stoic for the majority of the musical, he does get to sing the one breakout hit from the show, "The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine." The combination of Crossland's beautiful singing voice and the playful way Withers has directed him delivers a true crowd-pleasing moment. All of the cast create easygoing, laid back characters that have realistic working relationships with each other as they joke around and comment on each other's past experiences and romantic feelings.
Douglas Clarke's set design is gorgeous and colorful. Maci Hosler has created bright and character-specific costumes. Stephan McLaughlin has cultivated a large number of props that, like Clarke's set and Hosler's costumes, are period perfect. Tim Monson's lighting adds a range of colors and depth to the show, especially in how he perfectly highlights the serious solo songs. Ryan Peavey's sound design delivers crisp vocals and clear musical accompaniment.
Pump Boys and Dinettes is a fun-filled show full of down-home charm set against a backdrop of country, pop, and folk tunes. While there is little to the plot, the musical will take you back to a simpler time. Phoenix Theatre's production has an energetic cast who all have bright singing voices and are also talented musicians, plus crisp direction and gorgeous creative elements.
Pump Boys and Dinettes runs through August 23, 2021, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602- 254-2151
Director: D. Scott Withers
* Courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the U.S.