THEATER REVIEW: “Pump Boys & Dinettes” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Gail M. Burns
Back in the early 1980’s a couple of musician friends dressed up in mechanics overalls, billed themselves as the Pump Boys, and performed songs they’d written for their characters. This promptly got them fired from their gig playing country tunes in a New York City cowboy bar. But the act caught on, more friends joined in, and before you knew it Pump Boys and Dinettes – the name of the group as well as of their show – was playing off-Broadway.
“We became the first off-Broadway show to have a number in the Thanksgiving Day Parade,” said founding member/writer/performer/director Jim Wann. “It was below freezing that year and we all wore long underwear beneath our uniforms, including the Dinettes, who served coffee to Ed McMahon after he nearly fell off an elephant.”
Broadway beckoned, and in 1982 Pump Boys and Dinettes was nominated for both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award in the Best Musical category. The show has been popular in regional theaters ever since, and just last week the original cast gathered for two concert performances in New York.
Clive Barnes dubbed this show an example of “musicians theater” because the music generated the production, rather than the other way around. This is not a jukebox musical. The original group/cast wrote all the numbers, and they shape a gentle story of good ol’ boys and girls living simple quiet lives pumping gas and baking pies. We don’t learn a whole lot about the characters, in fact the bassist, Eddie, never speaks at all, but we get enough of a peek at their lives to get to like them and wish them well.
Pump Boys… is the perfect sort of musical for the Theater Barn in New Lebanon. Performed on a single set, all that is required is four guys and two girls who can sing. The guys play guitars and keyboard, and the girls provide the percussion on every kitchen implement behind the counter in the Double Cupp Diner. The Barn has proven expert over the years catching rising young talent, and they and director/choreographer Phillip Fazio have struck gold with this very talented and thoroughly charming cast.