“Pump Boys and Dinettes” / Theater Barn
AT THE THEATER BARN the beat goes on and the music steadily roars garage-to-diner and back. Occasionally there is a hint of plot relationship between the people on the stage, but the fun is mainly the sound of music.
The time and place is described as “Highway 57 Gas Station and Double Cupp Diner located somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, NC.” The diner is run by the Cupp sisters (oh cute), and the boys pump gas and repair cars when they get a break from their music-making.
In this production, there are two guitars, a bass, and a keyboard, and six very attractive singing voices. Even someone who is not a rock-country-western fan will love the agile musicality and luscious sounds that overwhelm regional nasality.
The harmonic language of this music somehow manages to be rather sophisticated even while it borrows lots of good stuff from pop and blues. Vocal arrangements, duets, quartets, sextets, and the occasional solo sound harmonically fresh, even though they were born in another era.
One has to really dig in the program to find out who created all this material. Oh well, they’re only composers, lyricists and dialogue writers. At least one of them, Jim Wann, may live locally.
It seems almost quaint that the stage is relentlessly gender-divided. The girls live mostly within aqua-trimmed pink walls, and they’re dressed in waitress garb that matches the walls! The he-boys are surrounded with he-brown and tough-guy auto stuff. Seems kinda sweet, actually.
The cast does everything right. Besides good singing, they never stop moving–from their sexy, Elvis knee-jiggles to jazz-class feet, and even tap dancing.
As Jim, Michael Santora often occupies center stage, and though it sometime appears that he is faking the guitar playing, he is always a powerful, audience-loving presence. There’s a real person up there—having a good time, full of energy, and delivering all of it in a vocally appealing, easy way.
Good-looker Patrick Scholl cares less about making love to the audience, but his “Mona, Mona, Mona” in Act II is smashing. Bass player Adam Peterson usually stands modestly upstage, but bass lines are a nicely aggressive, rhythmic glue that keeps the evening harmonically anchored—and occasionally reigns in a runaway keyboard. The keyboard player/music director, Oliver R. Townsend, is often half hidden by his instrument, but he rocks and roars and becomes the mechanic with digital small-motor skills.
The beat, beat, beat is given a rest now and then with a song sung a cappella or a tune in three-four. Especially effective and touching is the Cupp sisters’ duet about growing up together and having lost their childhoods.
Alexa Renee as Prudie and Alexandra Foley as Rhetta are similar vocally, and both are juicy dancers. Foley wins the high-notes and energy sweepstakes, however. In fact Foley is so good she could lose some of that energy and perhaps be even more wonderful. They each create a real young woman and they relate charmingly to the he-boys.
This show is nothing if not rhythmic, and the girls add to the beat with sticks together and sticks on a plethora of objects (a grater, a cowbell, a Jack Daniels bottle, etc.); and if they run out of objects to strike, they simply beat on that old fashioned percussion instrument: the diner-counter.
For the audience, toes could get sore from so much tapping, but it’s a rather short show, so your toes are probably safe.