The only thing better than enjoying a homemade slice of pie while filling up your car's gas tank is being able to do both to the sounds of good music. Triad Stage's production of Pump Boys and Dinettes is a toe tapping, knee slapping, fish frying goodtime!
The beauty lies in the production’s simplicity. There are no cumbersome plot elements or intricate character dynamics to decipher, simply four slothful gas station attendants shooting the breeze with two sister waitresses. Through music, the sextet is able to expound upon their lives and relationships with songs that alternate from clever and silly to sentimental, without once becoming somber. There is the pain of love lost, flirtatious courtship, sunburn, and even the great Dolly Parton, all strummed into the various tunes.
Director Bryan Conger has implemented a very clear vision that reinforces the components of home, specifically – although not exclusively – if you are a Southerner. The solace of familiar comradery, comfort food, and that song or two that always seem to take you back are commonalities shared among all people. However, Conger unquestionably captures the essence of what makes the South particularly special.
If authenticity was the aim, set designer Timothy R. Mackabee, more than succeeded with this production. The entire atmosphere radiated with quintessential accoutrements of a greasy auto shop and southern eatery. A hybrid, the set was adorned with stacks of car tires piled high along the sides as rainbow-colored lights and a collection of license plates shone down upon checkered tables and diner stools.
However, with bookless revues such as this, the success lies solely in the execution of the performance numbers. Under the musical direction of Justin P. Cowan, the cast soared with the material that combines elements of country, rock, blues, and gospel. Each cast member contributed by not only singing, but also playing the various instruments that comprised the band.
Rob Kahn as Jim, the leader of the pump boys and rhythm guitarist, was wonderfully comedic and relatable, especially on the song "Mamaw," where his rich vocals showcased tender nostalgia of remembering time spent with his grandmother. Anything the perpetually silent character Eddie lacks in lines and vocal solos, actor Aaron Bond strongly communicated with his impressive bass playing abilities and cool demeanor.
The character Jackson, played by Gabe Bowling on the lead guitar, was perfectly hunky as the resident ladies’ man. Bowling’s number “Mona” was surely a highlight. Jonathan Cable as L.M. rounds out the gas station crew. Cable proved to be exceptionally talented with his mastery of the instruments such as piano and accordion, and even tap-dancing. His "T.N.D.P.W.A.M." also spotlighted his impressive singing ability.
Although less than half the staff, but with just as much spunk, the ladies of the production were not to be out done. Georgia Rogers Farmer as Prudie Cupp was heartfelt and understated in the beautiful number "The Best Man." The sassy Rhetta Cupp, played by the powerhouse Gwendolyn Jones, shone in the number "Be Good or Be Gone." Both ladies' voices were an ideal pairing for the beautiful harmonies, and exuded a genuine chemistry as a pair. Whether the two were feisty in their demands for "tips," like in the number of the same name, or in deep yearning, as with the ballad "Sister," the duo was consistently a standout.
Yet, the true magic of the production was, surely, the group numbers with the entire cast. The fullness of the vocals and instrumentation on songs such as "Highway 57" and "Vacation" were precisely what makes Pump Boys and Dinettes most satisfying.
Triad Stage's Pump Boys and Dinettes is not to be missed.
Pump Boys and Dinettes continues through Sunday, May 4. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.