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Raleigh Little Theatre Review: Tar Heel Born and Bred, Pump Boys and Dinettes Is Still a Toe-Tapping Treat

August 17, 2004 - Raleigh, NC:


Tar Heel born and bred, and timeless in its affectionate tribute to the colorful denizens and quaint customs of rural North Carolina, the 1982 Broadway musical Pump Boys and Dinettes is still a toe-tapping treat, especially when its down-home ditties ("Highway 57," "Catfish," "Be Good or Be Gone," "Tips," Farmer Tan," "Closing Time") are performed to perfection, as they are in the current Raleigh Little Theatre production starring Brent Wilson, Rose Martin, Kenny Roby, Sandi Sullivan, and Brett Wilson.

Cleverly conceived and written in nearby Chapel Hill, NC by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann, and superbly staged by long-time RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons, this Southern-fried musical is actually a musical revue with a few brief comic skits to provide transitions between songs.

Brent Wilson (rhythm guitar), who doubles as the show's musical director, and Kenny Roby (lead guitar) are local vocalists with formidable reputations; and Rose Martin (percussion) was simply a revelation when she played the title role in RLT's production of Always... Patsy Cline. (Martin is now widely recognized one of the Triangle's foremost divas.)

Any director who can corral these three headliners has a surefire hit, but Fitz-Simons also recruited four other top talents actress/singer/musician Sandi Sullivan (percussion) and actor/singer/musicians Brett Wilson (piano/accordion), David Wilson (bass), and Stephen Gardner (drums) to round out the cast. Each of them demonstrates a fine flair for comedy as well as exemplary musicianship.

The result is pure theatrical magic as the shade-tree mechanics (a.k.a. Pump Boys) all cash-poor big-mouthed would-be Romeos to a man get their comeuppance from their voluptuous Juliets: the wisecracking waitresses of the Double Cupp Diner, located somewhere on N.C. 57, between Frog Level and Smyrna, where generation after generation of devoted customers wash down fried catfish with soft drinks and devour a variety of home-made pies with gusto.

Set designer Rick Young cleverly divides the stage between the rural gas station that serves as headquarters of the Pump Boys and the warm and cozy eatery where demanding diners keep the Dinettes hopping for meager tips. Lighting designer Roger Bridges artfully manipulates his instruments to keep the soloist(s) on each song in the spotlight, and costume designer Vicki Olson dresses the cast in an authentic array of old oily service-station jumpsuits and freshly laundered waitress outfits.

In-between the he-ing and she-ing that provides much of the show's comic relief, Pump Boys and Dinettes mixes the comic devices of musical theater with a hard-rocking rockabilly song list, mixing country, R&B, and gospel harmonies with good old rock and roll. Last Friday's opening-night audience rewarded the efforts of Messrs. Wilson, Roby, and Gardner and Misses Martin and Sullivan with a rare (for RLT) and extremely well-deserved standing ovation, saluting a must-see musical with a down-home flavor.

Raleigh Little Theatre presents Pump Boys and Dinettes 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: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and there will be assistive-listening devices at each performance. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/pump.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=7293.