Review: 'Pump Boys and Dinettes' down to earth fun

05:32 PM, Sep 16, 2013

Johnny Kinnaird, Erin Maguire and Farah Alvin star in Pump Boys and Dinettes at Geva Theatre Center. (Ken A. Huth/ / Photo provided by Geva)/


Written By Marcia Morphy

City-slickers are welcome at this roadside greasy spoon in North Carolina — somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna — “where you can eat and get gas” from two spunky waitress-sisters and four good ol’ boy gas station attendants.

Pump Boys and Dinettes is more than a truck stop serving up homemade pies at Double Cupp Diner; it’s a delightful toe-tapping country songfest as Geva opens its 41st season with a tribute to the Broadway musical that ran for 573 performances after making its debut in 1982.

Vicki Smith’s stage set is a double-duty shrine of blue collar and down-home fixings — an auto shop filled with tires, hubcaps and license-plate art, and a diner with an antique register, lunch counter and stools. Adding authenticity to the surroundings, the audience is invited to go up on stage to purchase beverages and homemade pie (courtesy of The Special Touch Bakery of the Holy Childhood) before the show and during intermission.

In the philosophy of “Work won’t kill you, but worry will,” the show is a testament to the laid back ways of the South where men talk about fishing, drinking and the local shopping mall, while the dinettes, Prudie and Rhetta, live to satisfy and nurture the customers who come their way.

Director Mark Cuddy finds the perfect chemistry in a cast that also doubles as the show’s band — playing guitar, piano, bass, accordion, harmonica and various kitchen utensils.

Rhythm guitarist Johnny Kinnaird is the uber-gifted leader Jim, the part owner of Pump Boys, guides us through the show with bits of narration and oozes high-octane charm in his on again, off again romance with Rhetta (“I’ll clear all the beer cans out of my car if you go out with me.”) His “Mamaw” tribute to his deceased grandmother was captivating and filled with melancholy.

Pianist Jonathan Spivey as L.M., Jim’s partner, is quiet and unassuming, until he hilariously reveals his past with a certain country music star in “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine.” Meanwhile, Travis Artz as Jackson, had the amazing ability to squat down while playing guitar and not rip those skin-tight jeans in his solo number “Mona,” while bassist Nathan Dame as Eddie, intentionally stayed true to his “coverall” character as a man of few words.

The Cupp sisters, Farah Alvin as Prudie and Erin Maguire as Rhetta, pump up the volume with a good helping of homespun humor, tap dancing and frank conversations about the reality of being waitresses. Alvin plays the levelheaded sister, with a secret crush for one of the pump boys (we never find out who) with engaging energy and charm. But it’s Maguire in her high-stepping boots, a fiery version of a young Reba McEntire, who slings plenty of sass in “Be Good or Be Gone,” and is a hoot to watch when the gang is on “Vacation.”

When all is said and done, who can resist those Pump Boys conducting a raffle during intermission for a coveted air freshener — or those Dinettes working the crowd for real tips, and getting them.

Go see it and don’t worry about the gas mileage: Highway 57 is now located at the nearest exit to Geva Theatre.

If you go

If you go

What:
Pump Boys and Dinettes.

When: Through Oct. 13.

Where: Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Blvd.

Cost: Tickets start at $25.

For tickets: (585) 232-4382 or gevatheatre.org.