The Paper Mill Playhouse revival of this classic country-fied musical, “Pump Boys and the Dinettes,” written by its original performers, Jim Wann, John Foley, Mark Hardwick, John Schimmel, Cass Morgan and Debra Monk, is a whole lotta fun, where time flies by while you bob your head and pop your fingers along with the homespun yarns of these down home folk. If you love live singing and seeing musicians, as they play everything from accordions to spoons to washboards, then it’s time you came down to the Paper Mill for some fun.
First off, we meet the Pump Boys–Jim (James Barry) is our interlocutor, who gives us the flavor of the wide place in the road between Frog Level and Smyrna on Highway 57. Next, we meet his guys–his partner in business LM (Jason Ostrowski), who is also the keyboard player and one of the accordion folk. He’s the steady guy, does the books and whatnot, but his still waters run deep and his sights high, as we learn in Act Two. Next is Jackson (Gabe Bowling), who is one handsome devil and he knows it. He’s the one who most often chats up the ladies while he’s pumping gas for them. He’s on lead guitar. Eddie (Sam Weber) plays upright and electric bass and he does things with that upright that I know I’ve never seen before … that alone is dazzling! Our Dinettes are the proprietors of the Double Cupp Diner, immediately adjacent to the Pump Boys’ gas station and garage. Prudie (Julie Foldesi) and Rhetta (Alysha Umphress) and these girls know how to work it! But what’s best about their diner? They’re most proud of their …. PIES! And with excellent reason!
Whether or not you’re a fan of country music, this show is a winner. When you love good singing, watching live musicians play, and a winsome cast of sexy people where some of the dancing is tap, that’s a recipe for a heapin’ helpin’ of a hot night.
The first act sets the stage with “Highway 57,” where you get a feel for where you’re headed. Favorites include “Taking it Slow” and “Fisherman’s Prayer,” with the Pump Boys where they’re playing and singing, firing on all cylinders and clearly having a good time. Don’t go in here looking for plot: this is a review type musical where, as noted, the original cast wrote the original music and lyrics. The close harmonies and pure sense of fun are what make this show so enjoyable–this cast is having a great time so we are too! Umphress’ Rhetta, in “Be Good or Be Gone,” is classic and when the ensemble puts on their “Drinkin’ Shoes,” there’s no better way to close out the act than with red-hot tap shoes!
My second act favorites include Bowling’s Jackson in “Mona,” the only girl that won’t give this boy the time of day, and LM’s “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine,” where first and foremost he’s a gentleman–and that’s just the beginning. What I think of as “the Sister Trilogy,” the down and dirty “Tips” about the little something extra a waitress likes to see, backed with the heartfelt “Sister,” with Prudie and Rhetta, gives us a wee glimpse into where they came from and their struggle–but then that segues into the ensemble piece “Vacation,” where the whole group apparently travels from North Carolina to Florida, a rest they all needed courtesy of Uncle Bob’s Winnebago … Umphress’ vocalise that leads it off is a paean to the importance of time off and she brought the house down! Hear this for yourself!
The dazzling array of instruments played by the cast includes pots and pans, a real shivaree! They play everything from the stools in the diner, wooden, and metal spoons, two different basses, two different accordions, mouth organ (harmonica), to acoustic and electric guitars and piano. Singing and dancing on top of that makes for a brilliant evening so get your tickets now before there ain’t no more.
“Pump Boys and the Dinettes” runs only through May 1, so see it early, see it often. Visit www.papermill.org
today for your tickets, and plan now–the new season has been announced and it’s HOT!