In the fictional world of the home-grown, down-home Broadway musical Pump Boys and Dinettes, opening tonight at Raleigh Little Theatre, there's a rural gas station called Pump Boys located somewhere on a lonely stretch of N.C. 57, between Frog Level and Smyrna, and staffed by five shade-tree mechanics. Across the road is the Double Cupp Diner, a popular local eatery run by the Cupp sisters.
This hilarious hybrid — a toe-tapping mixture of musical theater and a country-rock concert — was conceived and written in nearby Chapel Hill, NC by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann. After delighting the home folk, Pump Boys and Dinettes made its Broadway debut on Feb. 4, 1982 at the Princess Theatre, where it ran for 573 performances and earned a 1982 Tony Award® nomination for Best Musical. The show later opened at the Piccadilly Theatre in London on Sept. 20, 1984.
"I have known the music for Pump Boys and Dinettes since the show opened," says RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons, "but I guess I first saw the show in an Act Fest production by The Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Tampa. Since then I have seen the show in at least two different productions."
He adds, "The first thing one loves about this play is the music. A product of the creative genius of the original cast (Jim Wann, Cass Morgan, Debra Monk, et al.), the songs speak eloquently to those of us with a love for the laid-back ways of the South and an appetite for good Southern cookin'. The music defies classification... being in several different styles, ranging from R&B, Gospel, Country, to good old Rock 'n' Roll.
"Another interesting thing about the play is the format: it is a sort of concert piece that takes place in a set, consisting of an old country gas station ('Pump Boys') on Highway 57, somewhere 'down east' in North Carolina, and in the Double Cupp Diner, across the highway from the gas station. The five pump boys all play instruments and are a sort of de facto pick-up band. Prudie and Rhetta Cupp (the 'Dinettes') live to satisfy and nurture all who enter their spotless establishment and, Lord, how they sing!"
Fitz-Simons says Pump Boys and Dinettes is "a sort of concert/revue [with] hardly any plot to speak of.... Rather, this is a relationship-driven play," he explains. "There is a complex network of bonds that exist among the characters in the play. Jim (played by Brent Wilson), part owner of 'Pump Boys,' is laid back and easy-going. He loves fishing and has an on-again, off-again 'dating' relationship with Rhetta (Rose Martin). Jim's business partner, L.M (Brett Wilson), is the quiet, unassuming type with a mysterious past with a certain Country Music star. Rhetta's sister, Prudie (Sandi Sullivan), is perhaps the more level-headed of the sisters, [and she] carries a torch, in secret, for one of the Pump Boys.
"Filling out the cast are Jim's fishing buddy, Jackson (Kenny Roby); Jim's brother, Bud (Stephen Gardner); and the man of few words, Eddy (David Wilson), whose Edsel broke down awhile back and who has just sort of 'stuck around.' During the course of the play," Fitz-Simons says, "we learn all about what makes these characters tick as they tell us in song and story about their lives with each other out here on Highway 57."
In addition to director Haskell Fitz-Simons, the show's creative team includes musical director Brent Wilson, set designer Rick Young, lighting designer Roger Bridges, and costume designer Vicki Olson. Probably the major challenge in staging this Southern-fried musical, Fitz-Simons says, was "finding actors who could find the right sort of chemistry. Oh, yes... and they have to play instruments well!"
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Pump Boys and Dinettes Friday-Saturday, Aug. 13-14, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 15, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 18-21 and 25-28 and Sept. 1-4, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, August 22 and 29 and Sept. 5, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $21 Friday-Saturday, $18 Thursday/Sunday, $14 Wednesday, except $12 Sunday for students and seniors. 919/821-3111 or http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets.htm. Note 1: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and there will be assistive-listening devices at each performance. Note 2: There will be audio description at the Aug. 15th Sunday matinee. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/pump.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=7293.