By Barry Reszel
The Motel 6 of musical theatre, Pump Boys and Dinettes, is enjoying an impeccably performed early fall run at Theatre at the Center, directed by Brian Russell.
Cue the thumping bass, sit back and listen to the simpler time stories of four men who work at a gas station (L.M., Jackson, Jim and Eddie) and two waitresses (sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp) at the Double Cupp Diner next door, along Highway 57 between Frog Level and Smyrna, NC.
For anyone who ever pondered the day-to-day lives of the folks they met at our society’s predecessor to the truck stop next to the Cracker Barrel, Pump Boys and Dinettes provides the answers. They’re simple, sweet and sometimes silly.
With a country (sometimes pop-influenced) songbook played by the cast on guitar, piano, bass and kitchen utensils the musical premiered on Broadway in 1982, was nominated for a Best Musical Tony that year and closed in 1983 after 573 performances. The show also enjoyed a five-year run at Chicago’s Apollo Theatre in the 80s.
The entire show was written, directed and performed by the singing group of the same name. Its members were John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann.
What first stands out about the TATC production is the incredible musicianship from Matt Edmonds (LM) on piano/accordion, Shaun Whitley (Jim) on lead guitar, Matt Holzfeind (Jackson) on rhythm guitar and Cody Siragusa (Eddie) on bass, directed by William Underwood.
Whitley is the show’s Tom Bodett, making the introductions and piecing together the loose plot that offers just enough nice country storytelling through song and dialogue to leave the audience heartwarmingly satisfied.
Veronica Garza as Prudie is a terrific comedic actress and lovely vocalist. Her duet, “Sister,” with Christine Mild as Rhetta, is probably the most tender moment of the entire show. Pondering their childhood, the duo harmonizes, “Could we ever be children again?” Truly lovely.
As is every song Mild’s gorgeous voices touches. This gem of a musical theatre actress and Northwestern University alumna deserves lead casting at a Chicagoland venue soon. Her subtly nuanced acting touches are noticed, and she has the voice of an angel. Mild’s debut CD, “Love is Everything,” is available here or from her personally following Pump Boys performances.
The functional unit set by Angela Weber Miller is attractive; Brenda Winstead‘s costumes and Shelly Strasser Hollan‘s lighting are perfectly appropriate. At times, instruments down out vocals, but generally, the sound, too, is just fine.
Really, “just fine” is the best compliment a production of Pump Boys and Dinettes can get. This show is meat loaf and mashed potatoes, not filet Mignon and scalloped potato gratin. These folks don’t fly to Paris and stay at the Four Seasons; they drive to Florida, in an uncle’s “borrowed” Winnebago and stay at Motel 6.
And they’ll leave the light for you.
Theatre at the Center presents “Pump Boys and Dinettes” through October 16 at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN. More information and tickets ($40-$44) are available here.