Arts & Culture

Review: 'Pump Boys and Dinettes' designed to entertain

Casey Elizabeth Gill, Ben Loving and Ashlie Roberson star in "Pump Boys and Dinettes" now on stage at Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island.
Casey Elizabeth Gill, Ben Loving and Ashlie Roberson star in "Pump Boys and Dinettes" now on stage at Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island. Submitted photo

"Pump Boys and Dinettes" now on stage at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island, delivers equal portions of music and fun with country, western, rock, rockabilly, bluegrass and even Broadway numbers in a production that is designed to entertain a broad audience.

As the season seems to suggest and require, this summer pick is fully laid-back and satisfies any craving for musical theater.

Set in a North Carolina truckstop somewhere near Frog Level and Smyrna, the play is all about the people who populate that lively location.

The familiar, kind of shop-worn story line, with a Southern spin, offers details of the comings and goings of six characters -- four gas station attendants in place to wipe your pipes and scrub your hubs and a couple of snappy, zippy, spirited waitresses ready to serve up a carload of fried chicken and all of the trimmins ... and that's not all.

Now would be a perfect time to tell you that this 1982 Tony- and Drama Desk-nominated musical came about in the most colorful way, and continues to remain on current award-winning revival lists throughout the country. Everybody, it turns out, enjoys an evening of pure escape. And it was a couple of New York musicians, songwriters, pianists and guitarists who figured it out and got together on a project, which they expanded -- really expanded -- in the most amazing way.

So the full version of "Pump Boys and Dinettes" must be credited to John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann, who wrote it and then performed it -- the creative team became the performing team. The rest is history.

Back on stage at our roadside garage and dinette, where, in addition to the usual tire rotating and such, we begin to realize there is a little more going on at the truckstop and the Double Cupp Diner than meets the eye.

So you won't be surprised when I remind you that "Pump Boys and Dinettes" simply deals with the ins and outs of these four mechanics who would rather fish and drink beer than repair Uncle Bob's Winnebago, and two waitress sisters who have more on their minds than serving up pecan pie. All these plot intricacies are delivered by way of narrative, song and innuendo.

Director Robert J. Farley put together the accomplished company of performers and musicians. You must remember that each member of the cast is part of the one and only band -- right down to the Cupp sisters and their percussion responsibilities on the kitchen utensils in the dinette. Farley, who directed "Driving Miss Daisy" here in 2013, has a particular knack for working with the cast to get a precise type of performance, as he's done here with a kind of down home, blue collar, deliberately hokey spin. The musical direction comes from Jeff Boering, scenic design from Sabrinna L. Cox, lighting from Brian Riley, costume design from Diana Griffin, sound design from John McQuiggan and stage managing from Ginger M. James.

The company fills the bill. Their solo and ensemble singing is on the mark. You must look forward to "Highway 57," which sets the pace of the evening, and particularly to "Vacation," one of my personal favorites.

Ben Loving (Jim), who is making his arts center debut, has a vast performance background in theater, film and television. It was up to him to get everything rolling and monitor the flow of the show. He sings and plays a mean guitar, all critical to his outcome. Watch out for his "Mamaw," which is particularly touching and poignant.

Pianist Guy Strobel (L.M.), who plays accordion, harmonica and his own version of percussion, breaks through his unassuming presence with a knock out "T.N.D.P. W.A.M." -- or "The Night Dolly Parton was Almost Mine" -- and "Farmer Tan" with the Dinettes.

Scott Moss (Eddie), the awesome bassist, continues to impress with his musical skills, too. Most will remember him for his role here in "The Buddy Holly Story." Many will recall having seen him in a variety of films and on television's "Royal Pains."

Kyle Lacy (Jackson) making his arts center debut, offers an amazing presence with his guitar through most of the production, then completely sets himself apart in his performance of "Mona."

Ah, but the Dinettes. The Cupp sisters, Casey Elizabeth Gill (Rhetta) and Ashlie Roberson (Prudie) both come with impressive backgrounds and enthusiasm for the very important distaff balance they offer the manly Pump Boys. You will really enjoy Rhetta's show stopping "Be Good or Be Gone," Prudie's "Best Man," and the Dinettes' "Sisters."

The company, and most especially their musical performances, engage, entertain and divert and send us into the night with a smile on our collective faces and a song in our collective hearts.

Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry.