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Pump Boys and Dinettes (02/04/1982 - 06/18/1983)


New York Daily News: "'Pump Boys' a gasser"

"Pump Boys and Dinettes" originally opened at the Off-Broadway Westide Arts Theatre, moved to the Colonnades Theater Lab, and then opened at the Princess Theatre February 4, 1982.

The major part of talent is really loving what you do. If you can convince an audience that that's where you're at, you're in.

By this standard, "Pump Boys and Dinettes," a Country-Western farrago at the Colonnades Theater Lab, is quite in. Despite moments of almost sloppy sentimentality and cutesy patter, six full-of-beans performers deliver a vivid account in song of their lives in a small town on Highway 57. John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Deborah Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann, who wrote most of the songs, have no trouble at all persuading us that they are just the good ol' boys and girls they purport to be.

The scene is the Double Cupp Diner, run by the sassy Cupp sisters, where the pump boys, who run the garage across the road, hang out. Since the lads spend all of their time singing with the girls, no gas is pumped or repairs made. Bad for the cars, good for us. There is no "book" to this musical but a sort of narrative of a type of life is woven slickly through the brief introductions to the songs and the lyrics themselves.

What makes the lives credible is the variety of experience considered by the lyrics: love, of course, but fishing, too, and drinking beer at the shopping mall, fixing Uncle Bob's Winnebago then sneaking it off for a vacation, an almost-affair with Dolly Parton and a sister's plea for understanding. These are brought off with buoyant, earthy humor and, in the case of "Sister," with genuine pathos as sung by Monk and Morgan. Morgan is a particularly vibrant number and Mark Hardwick as the goofy-faced El "M" who is besieged by horny women is a gas both as character and pianist.

But all of them are good, damned good. "Dinettes" lasts just short of an hour and half. Just right.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "'Pump Boys' totally terrific theater"

"Pump Boys and Dinettes" originally opened at the Off-Broadway Westide Arts Theatre, moved to the Colonnades Theater Lab, and then opened at the Princess Theatre February 4, 1982.

The two words that best describe Pump Boys and the Dinettes, at the Colonnades Theater, are totally terrific. It is one of the best Jacques Brel style cabaret shows yet conceived, and its friendly innocents and open-hearted insouciance is up there with the very best.

Simple premise of the show is that it takes place in a gas station with an attached diner on highway 57 in the South. The evening is originally the brainchild of Jim Wann, most of the music has been composed by Wann himself, his wife Cass Morgan, and a mean, crazy piano player, Mark Hardwick.

Joining the others are John Foley on the other guitar, Debbie Monk, as the other dinette, and John Schimmel on bass. The music whirls up a storm strong enough to whirl Dorothy into the outland of OZ - and is just as magical.

It is certainly eclectic - in basis it might be termed as up country and southern music. However this strange mixture of bluegrass, rockabilly, gospel, ballads and blues, even a touch of boogie woogie and good, old '40s crooning, with everything infused with the spirit of country and western is truly enchanting.

There is, of course, no story - it is merely a picture, almost cartoon of a time and place. A still-life of Americana, and as American as a photograph of a frozen slice of applie pie. It's cute, neat and sassy.

The performers have apparently directed themselves - little direction is needed - and Doug Jenkins has provided just the right melange of sleaze, schlock and good old fashioned bad taste in his designing.

Most of all it is the performers that are providing the greatest joy - six kids just putting on a show! Many of the individual numbers are practically incandescent with a charming sincerity, perhaps pay special attention to Mark Hardwick pouring out his heart to Dolly Parton, and Foley mooning and moaning about Mona, a clerk in the Five and Dime.

The staging at the Colonnades is happily relaxed, and you sit around at tables, with beer and cola available. It is such fun!

New York Post

New York Times: "'Pump Boys' by Jim Wann"

"Pump Boys and Dinettes" originally opened at the Off-Broadway Westide Arts Theatre, moved to the Colonnades Theater Lab, and then opened at the Princess Theatre February 4, 1982.

''Pump Boys and Dinettes,'' the delightful revue that opened last night at the Colonnades, offers three ways of dealing with the energy crisis. You can eat and get gas. Or you can eat. Or you can just get gas.

At least that's what Rhetta Cupp says. Rhetta (Cass Morgan) is one of the Cupp Sisters, proprietors of the Double Cupp Diner, across the street from the gasoline station in Frog Level, S.C. Rhetta's boyfriend is Jim (Jim Wann), head pump boy, and her sister Prudie (Debra Monk) smolders for L.M. (Mark Hardwick), the station's vinegar-faced manager who reputedly drives the girls wild. The source of his appeal is one of the small mysteries that is eventually explained in this 90-minute show - a singular mixture of a country-pop concert and musical theater.

Twelve of the show's 19 songs were written by Mr. Wann, whose musical about Jesse James, ''Diamond Studs,'' enjoyed a long life in regional theater. Last year, his Off Broadway ''Frimbo'' fared less well.

Mr. Wann's songs for ''Pump Boys'' range from the sentimental to the comic and have the folksy authenticity of Dolly Parton originals. Glossing not only country, but also rockabilly, white Southern gospel and soft rock, they extol such everyday pleasures as fishing, dancing, ''making love and watching color TV.''

If the notion of treating a bunch of Southern working-class young people as icons of American innocence sounds impossibly corny, Mr. Wann's heart is so much in it that Frog Level convincingly emerges as a sheltered little Eden, and the six actors who represent it on stage have the natural rapport of people who grew up together. It helps that the characters obviously reflect the personalities of the actors.

Miss Morgan delivers her song ''Sisters'' with a throaty directness that establishes her as the most sensible of the bunch. The soft-rock ballad ''Mamaw,'' an ode to Jim's matriarchal grandmother, shows Mr. Wann at his most characteristic - sentimental yet believably sincere.

The comic centerpiece is Mark Hardwick's solo, ''The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine,'' in which the rubber-legged beanpole, who looks a little like Jerry Lewis and plays the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, cherishes the memory of getting close enough to Miss Parton after a concert to whisper, ''You were fine.''

And Mr. Hardwick reveals the secret of L.M.'s sex appeal in ''Farmer Tan'': ''Two-toned biceps and an ivory chest.'' When ''Pump Boys and Dinettes'' played last summer at the Westside Arts Theater, the music was a bit ragged. But at Sunday's preview, the ensemble singing, including some fancy a cappella work, was letter-perfect.

Such comic touches as the Dinettes' using baking utensils as percussion instruments made musical as well as dramatic sense. The arrangements for two guitars, piano, bass and accordion were honed to a fine edge, with a dash of electric lead guitar (John Foley) spicing up the mostly acoustic settings.

Both musically and theatrically, ''Pump Boys and Dinettes'' is a small triumph of ensemble playing. It doesn't merely celebrate the value of friendship and life's simple pleasures, it embodies them.

New York Times

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