High octane 'Pump Boys and Dinettes' will fill you up at The Theater Barn

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NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — You really don't have to travel all the way to Frog Level and Smyrna, N.C. to find the Highway 57 Gas Station and adjoining Double Cupp Diner. The Cupp sisters — Rhetta and Prudie — and the pump boys/mechanics across the road —Jim, Jackson, L.M. and Eddie — have set up shop at The Theater Barn, just over the mountain from Pittsfield on Route 20. They are a welcome presence in a summer in which the world-at-large seems to have set up camp on the area's various stages.

"Pump Boys and Dinettes," a thoroughly ingratiating musical created, written and composed by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann, opened Off-Broadway in 1981; transferred to Broadway one year later, where it earned a Tony nomination for Best Musical; and has surfaced at various regional-, summer-, community- and college theaters since.

With an evocative, irresistible score that is rich in country, rockabilly, blues, folk, boogie, and country-pop rhythms and traditions, "Pump Boys and Dinettes" has nothing complicated or deep on its mind as it sings about the lives and modest dreams of the Cupp sisters — Rhetta (Alexandra Foley) and Prudie (Alexa Renee), siblings who have come a long way in their relationship, from a childhood in which they were virtual strangers to one another even though they grew up in the same house (recalled poignantly in their affecting duet, "Sister") to partners in a customer-friendly, full-menu roadside eatery known particularly for its coffee, its homemade pies and its hospitality. All the young ladies require in return is that customers return the favor with the generosity of their "Tips," a sly number rich in devilish innuendo.

Rhetta is a single mom who has kind of a thing going with Jim (an engaging Michael Santora, the Pump Boys' lead singer and rhythm guitarist, who finds simple joys in fishing and in taking off on a vacation to Florida with Rhetta, the kids, all the gas station/diner clan. His own family tries are recalled in his haunting "Mamaw."

Prudie has no man in her life at the moment and she laments that void in her life in her endearing "The Best Man I Never Had."

She is not the only one looking for love. Jackson (an engaging Patrick Scholl) spends his paydays hanging out near his dream love, "Mona," a cashier at the Woolworth's across from the local mall. And L.M. (Oliver "Ollie" R. Townsend), the band and show's hugely skilled music director and pianist, carries with him lasting memories of "The Night Dolly Parton was Almost Mine."

This captivating show, smoothly staged and modestly mounted (albeit badly lit), moves easily across the Theater Barn stage. And while director Phillip Fazio's production doesn't quite fully mine "Pump Boys and Dinettes'" riches, this is not at all a waste of 90 minutes on a summer's eve or afternoon.

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at 413-496-6212 or jborak@berkshireeagle.com


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