Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pump Boys and Dinettes

Tepid ‘PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES’ at Carousel

Sean Cercone, the Artistic Director of Carousel Dinner Theatre, and director of the venue’s present production, ‘PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES,’ states in the program that on one-hand, PBD is a “fun musical revue about a group of mechanics and waitresses with wonderful music abilities.” He also states that others will see the show as “a high energy concert with a variety of musical styles.”

To be honest, I don’t like the script because of its attempt to make a story out of songs that really don’t fit cohesively together. So, I think the best way to review the production is to examine it using Cercone’s explanations.

“With wonderful music abilities.” Yes, yes, yes, the Carousel cast play instruments with talent and zeal. On the other hand, the singing was not of the same quality. Many of the vocal blends were off and several songs were misinterpreted.

“Fun.” The Carousel production is short on the fun aspect. The pace is too slow. The jokes often don’t work. Attempts to engage the audience generally failed. Part of this is due to the size of the theatre, which discourages interaction unless the cast roams the aisles. In addition, Canton’s Pat McRoberts, who was so brilliant in Carousel’s ‘BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY,’ just doesn’t have the stand-up comedian style to pull off the adlibbing and high-jinks needed for the requisite fun. A great singer he is, but a comedian, he isn’t. Many of the other performers had the same lack of comic timing.

“A high energy concert.” High energy? Nope. Those who saw PBD at Porthouse earlier this season saw high energy, and by the way, also the fun aspect, but Carousel’s production, at least on opening night, was flat. The tepid applause at the curtain call was evidence to that. On the other hand, the encore segment was high energy and the audience responded to that segment with enthusiasm. Too bad the rest of the show wasn’t on a “Red Bull” high.

“A variety of musical styles.” Yes, the musical score covers rock, country, ballads and many more styles. The musicians did an excellent job of varying the sounds so that each mode became distinctive.

High points of the production included “Mamaw,” a plaintive song performed by Pat McRoberts, and ”Be Good or Be Gone” by Kate Margaret. A nice tap dancing interlude in “Drinkin’ Shoes’ brought sustained applause.

On the other hand, T.N.D.P.W.A.M. (“The Night That Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine”) lacked the necessary plaintive feeling of loss. The always amusing “Farmer Tan” failed to delight. Both of these songs were performed by Steven Ray Watkins. He plays a mean piano, but didn’t let loose in the songs meant to add “fun” to the show.

Kate Margaret wailed and commanded the stage in each of her presentations. Her voice was so strong that she drowned out the small vocal sounds of Sarah Nischwitz who lacked needed dynamism.

The impressive set by Robert Kovach was well conceived, but the massive size of the stage, with all the real gas pumps, cars and realistic diner, overwhelmed the small cast.

One of my favorite theatre professors, Kent State’s Bill Zucchero, once said, “You should not come out of a musical whistling sets and costumes.” Interestingly, as I was walking out of the theatre, the people who I exited with were talking about the set and not the quality of the staging or the music.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Hopefully, as ‘PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES’ runs at Carousel, the pace will pick up, Pat McRoberts will play more with the audience in a comfortable and natural way, and Steven Ray Watkins will let loose and enjoy himself and make his songs more fun. If that happens, PBD will be a delightful experience.