Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pump Boys and Dinettes

‘PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES’--a perfect summertime escape at Porthouse

In 1982 ‘PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES,’ a version of which is now appearing on stage at Porthouse Theatre on the grounds of Blossom Center, was a Tony Award nominee for “Best New Musical.” It ran for 573 performances on the Big White Way.

If you go to see the production at Porthouse, don’t expect to see a story line show. The script is tale-light, though this version is talent heavy. The story, at least the general “plot” outline, centers on the goings on of 4 males (the pump boys) and 2 females (the dinettes) who work at a gas station/dinette somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, North Carolina.

The music, which is mostly from country/hillybilly rock/pop music genres, including some “pump rock”, is mostly unknown. None of the songs went on to any great fame, but they all “kind a’” sound familiar. Titles include, “Fisherman’s Prayer,” “Vacation,” “”No Holds Barred,” and “Serve Yourself.”

The Porthouse cast is excellent. The talented musicians, who play everything from piano to harmonica to guitar to electric bass to accordion, are wonderful. The singing is also mighty fine.

Since many of the lines are ad libbed, right from getting a volunteer out of the audience to play Uncle Bob, to handing out fresh baked apple pie, to having a raffle for a “real honest to goodness” car air-freshener, the performers have to be up on their quick thinking game. They pass the test with flying colors, especially Chris Blisset, the guitarist and chief trouble maker. Besides his fine joking around, his version of “Mamaw” was a vocal highlight.

Ian Lowe not only plays a “mean pie-ana,” but has a charming presentational style. His “T.N.D.P.W.A.M (The Night That Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine)” was one of the evening’s delights.

Laura Cook, could have used more animation and playfulness, but her “The Best Man” was presented with a nice country sound.

Gary Thobaben, he of the wild black Mohawk wig and no facial expression, made quite a presence, though he only had a single line.

Laura Beth Wells was a hoot as the sexy come-hither waitress. She teased with the audience, and rocked through “Be Good or Be Gone.” W. James Koeth was dynamic in “Mona.”

Director Eric van Baars paced the show well and kept the tone well-focused.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES’ is perfect summer time escapist entertainment. If you just want to sit outdoors amidst the chirping of the birds and insects, and hear some “good-ol’” music encased in “down home talkin’,” then this is your “thang.” You’ll find yourself “Taking It Slow,” until “Closing Time” and then taking “Highway 57” (or Route 8) home.