Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre opened the 2014 season with “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” a 1982 Tony best musical nominee. It is unique in musical history in that the six members of a performance group known as the Pump Boys and Dinettes not only wrote the musical, but starred in it on Broadway.
The production opens a new year with a musical trip down memory lane and a humorous and nostalgic look back at the 1950s. The setting is a gas station with an adjacent diner somewhere in North Carolina near Smyrna and Frog Level. Remember when gas stations had a pump boy who put in the gas, cleaned your windshield, and checked your oil and tires? Well, this station has four pump boys, and no pumping the gas yourself!! The Double Cupp Diner is one of those mom and pop type places run by two sisters and we know legendary and beloved places like this still exist, although they are far outnumbered by impersonal fast food places these days.
There is no real plot, but plenty of good music; twenty songs with a country and bluegrass flavor, along with lots of talk among the performers about fishing, food, and guys and gals.
You may be wondering why this show has not been done more often, considering it has been around since the 1980s. Well, it has mainly been done by professional theatres like the Alhambra, because the cast has to be especially talented. The four men all must be excellent musicians, able to play instruments that include guitars, piano, bass, and an accordion. And three of the four must also be capable of some mighty fine singing. The fourth, Eddie (JAYSON ELLIOTT) is a wiz on his bass and guitar but is also a big silent type who actually talks/sings only three words during the entire show; you’ll have to pay attention or you will miss them.
The Cupp Sisters, Rhetta (JESSICA BRADISH) and Prudie (ASHLIE ROBERSON), are both terrific singers and their duet “Sister” is pure musical magic. The delightful ladies do add a bit of percussion to one of the songs, with some slick drumming on pots and pans.
All of the singing boys have insightful solos about the women in their lives, but mostly they sing together with wonderful harmony. We were especially impressed with their version of “Fisherman’s Prayer” and their rocking ballads. Jackson (KYLE LACY), L. M. (JONATHAN CABLE), and Jim (SAM SHERWOOD) have great personality and looks to go along with their fine musical talents and added to this are their comedic skills at handling the entertainingly folksy banter. Although they have been working together only a short time, under the guidance of Director/Producer TOD BOOTH, there is already a sense of comfortable familiarity among the cast members.
IAN BLACK’s set, half diner and half gas station, is terrific, with nostalgic motifs. The Gas station guys wear dark blue coveralls while the Cupp Sisters are dressed in bright red uniforms and aprons that goes along with the bright diner interior.
If you haven’t noticed in any of your recent visits to the
Alhambra, Executive Chef DEJUAN ROY and Alhambra owner CRAIG SMITH carefully plan the themed menu for each show. For this show you will feel that you are truly in a diner with a choice of Open Face Cheesy Meatloaf, Diner Chicken Potpie, Fried Triggerfish, or Eggplant Parmesan, all coming with delicious sides. For dessert you can choose Highway 57 Cherry Pie with fresh whipped cream or an Old Fashioned Ice-Cream Sundae.
We can recommend “Pump Boys & Dinettes” for an entertaining theatre experience combined with an excellent meal. The songs are filled with an essential warmth, and the young and energetic cast shines. It will be on stage until February 2; don’t miss it.