Theatre Raleigh has a perfect opener for its 2015 Hot Summer Nights series in “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” This down-home show is light but filling, quickly consumed but fully satisfying, and should fire up audiences for fishing trips and beach vacations.
Two creators, Jim Wann and John Foley, were friends at UNC-Chapel Hill and took part in locally spawned “Diamond Studs.” Wann then met Mark Hardwick and worked up a tribute to country life. Debra Monk, John Schimmel and Cass Morgan joined Foley, Hardwick and Wann to perform the piece (all are credited as the writers), opening on Broadway in 1982 and later nominated for Best Musical.
The show is a series of vignettes covering typical days at a country gas station. Laid-back Jim and moody L.M. run the place, where happy-go-lucky Jackson and quiet Eddie also work. Perky Prudie Cupp and feisty sister Rhetta run the Double Cupp Diner next door. The guys sing about cutting out from work while playing various instruments; the gals sing about pride in their work, using kitchen utensils as percussion instruments.
“Pump Boys” is best experienced in a small theater, where audiences can feel they are waiting for an oil change while having some pecan pie. Director Tim Seib gets that feeling here, aided by the familiar trappings of station and diner in Chris Bernier’s sets.
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The toe-tapping, smile-inducing songs keep the show moving under music director Ethan Andersen, who also plays L.M. winningly. He thumps out powerful piano riffs mooning over Dolly Parton and catchy accordion chords boasting about his redneck tan.
Michael Kennedy’s Jackson rocks out on his love letter to a dime store cashier, balanced by Travis Artz’s enticing paean to a Florida vacation as Jim. The guys, including Jon Skinner’s electric guitar-twanging Eddie, impress in their mock-serious fisherman’s prayer.
Dakota Mackey-McGee’s Prudie harmonizes beautifully with Emily Firth’s Rhetta in a tribute to sisterhood, while Firth’s solo, “Be Good or Be Gone,” gets the joint jumping.
At Wednesday’s opening, the cast was appealing, needing only some loosening up to fully engage. Head mikes made lyrics clear but, when combined with standing mikes, obscured them. But those quibbles don’t impede the joyful fun this energetic show provides.
‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’
▪ Kennedy Theatre, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
▪ 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and June 3-6; 2 p.m. Saturday and June 6; 3 p.m. Sunday and June 7.
▪ $27; seniors/students/military, $25.
More information: 919-832-9997 or theatreraleigh.com.