THE BASICS: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, the musical by Foley, Hardwick, Monk, Morgan, Schimmel and Wann, directed by Chris Kelly, with music direction by Robert Insana, opened on September 5 and runs through October 7, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7, Fridays at 7:30, and Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2. (Note: September 14 is Curtain Up! when all shows in WNY start at 8 pm.) MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main Street, Amherst (you can enter via Main but the Getzville Road entrance is easier) (839-8540). www.musicalfare.com Beautifully appointed lounge, full service bar. Runtime 1 hour 40 minutes with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Nominated in 1982 for a Tony Award for best musical, PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES introduces us to four “Pump Boys” who work at a gas station on Highway 57 in Tennessee and the “Dinettes,” sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp, who run the “Double Cupp Diner” next door. Together the six bring us an evening of country, rhythm and blues, and rockabilly songs as the actors play a variety of guitars, piano, accordion, bass, banjo, mandolin, harmonica and kitchen utensils. (Need more cowbell? Prudie uses a small fry pan. For a güiro, Rhetta’s cheese grater does just fine.)
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Fresh up from Nashville, Jaclyn Lisenby Brown is “Prudie” and Buffalo favorite Maria Droz seen recently in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS THE MUSICAL is “Rhetta.” Jayson Clark, recently seen as an ensemble member in ONCE is “Eddie,” Joseph Donohue III, recently seen in MURDER FOR TWO and before that MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is “L.M.” while Ryan Kaminski is the “front man” for the evening “Jim,” and Andrew J. Reimers anchors the group by singing (and playing) bass as “Jackson.”
I looked forward to this performance on opening night because of the “heavy hitters” involved in this production, directors and actors. And, indeed, Joseph Donahue III was spectacular on the piano. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never seen any rocker more organically connected to the keyboard. It’s just an extension of him. There’s no other way to say it. It’s really something to watch. And, Maria Droz is really something herself. Cute as a button, a little ball of energy, she worked her fanny off. However, at the end of the day, the whole was far less than the sum of its very talented individual parts.
I had problems with both this production and the material. First, this production. There is no sex appeal, no palpable chemistry, electricity, or magical attraction between the boys and the girls. “Jim” and “Rhetta” have had a falling out and we should be rooting for them to patch things up, but we don’t care.
There might be something between “Jackson” and “Prudie” but if there’s smoke, there sure ain’t no fire. “L.M.’s” crush on Dolly Parton is cute, but of course can’t go anywhere. And “Eddie,” we’re told, comes from Smyrna, and they’re all inbred up there, so it’s just as well he never hooks up. The big laugh lines didn’t land and the timing of both dialog and on-stage movement still hadn’t had time to gel, and the opportunities for some raunchy innuendos were quickly glossed over. Now, traditionally, Buffalo shows at almost every venue in town are under-rehearsed, and it takes a few performances before live audiences to shake things out, so when you go it should be better.
The other problem is the material. This show has been produced often, several times in Buffalo, so there must be something there, but I didn’t see it. While some of the songs are “high lonesome” sweet, some are funny, there’s a good blues number, and some rockabilly, there is no through-line, no dramatic arc, no plot. Many people complain that “juke box musicals” force popular songs to fit a plot, but at least the songs are popular, and at least there’s a plot. Here, the songs are just okay and there’s no plot at all. None. It makes the “Dukes of Hazzard” look like Hamlet.
UP NEXT: THE THREE MUSKETEERS (after Dumas) directed by Chris Kelly, November 1, 2018 through November 18, 2018 produced by “All for One Theatre Productions, LLC” which is a collaborative production by Shea’s 710 Theatre, MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, Irish Classical Theatre, and Theatre of Youth. Note: the venue will be Shea’s 710 Theatre.
Next on stage in Amherst: The world premiere of Tom Dudzik’s CHRISTMAS OVER THE TAVERN, at MusicalFare, November 14 through December 16.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!