CdA Summer Theatre production opens tonight
“Pump Boys and Dinettes” is a 1980s country-rock musical revue heaped full of songs but over-easy on the plot and drama.
There’s just enough dialogue to stitch the songs together.
Yet the story of the show itself – how it got to Broadway – has its own drama.
It began in 1980 when Mark Hardwick and Jim Wann were the country-tinged lounge act at a New York steakhouse. Sometimes they wore gas-station uniforms just for fun and started calling themselves the Pump Boys.
Meanwhile, Wann’s wife, Cass Morgan, and fellow singer Debra Monk were trying to start their own cabaret act. They hit on the idea of calling themselves the Cupp Sisters, waitresses in a diner.
Occasionally, the Cupp Sisters, aka the Dinettes, joined the Pump Boys in the lounge.
People loved it. So the foursome all started to write songs. Then they added a few more musicians.
Pretty soon they had more than a cabaret show. They had a full-fledged original musical revue, set in a mythical gas station and neighboring diner just outside Frog Level, N.C.
It opened off Broadway in 1981 and proved to be such a crowd-pleaser that it moved to Broadway in 1982, where it was a long-running smash.
The New York Times called the show “homey, friendly and relaxed.”
Then it became a staple at regional theaters all over the country. But it has had few major productions in the Inland Northwest.
It’s a tough show to cast, since the performers must have the same talents as those original Pump Boys and Dinettes.
The Pump Boys must play their own instruments: guitar, harmonica, piano, accordion and bass. The Dinettes (of the Double Cupp Diner) occasionally join in on cheese graters and other forms of kitchen-percussion.
And, of course, they all have to sing and act as well.
The Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre is better-equipped than most to deal with this, since it is loaded with theatrical and musical talent from around the country.
Case in point: Steven Dahlke, the show’s musical director, will double in the role of L.M., one of the Pump Boys. Who knew Dahlke could also play the accordion?
The CdA Summer Theatre even follows in the footsteps of the show’s creators by having a married couple in the cast, J. Michael Zygo and Jillian Zygo, who play Jim and Prudie. They have major national touring credentials.
Another couple – Dane Stokinger and Jessica Skerritt, who play Jackson and Rhetta – are engaged.
You might remember Stokinger from many roles at the theater, including the Elvis-type character in “All Shook Up.” Skerritt just finished a run as an exceptional Cinderella in the season’s previous show.
The cast is rounded out by Rob Peterson on bass.
The director is Kasey RT Graham, one of Spokane theater’s success stories. He won a Chase Youth Award as a Central Valley High School student and went on to direct and music-direct a number of shows at the Spokane Civic Theatre and CdA Summer Theatre while still a student at Whitworth University.
Then he turned professional and became the musical director for a number of big national tours, including “The Producers,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Oklahoma.”
“Pump Boys and Dinettes” strives for a friendly, down-home feel. Laura Little of the CdA Summer Theatre describes it as combination of Mayberry, “The Dukes of Hazzard” and the Grand Ole Opry.
Expect plenty of audience interaction. A raffle is held every night, and one lucky audience member gets a prize (if you can call it a prize).
And here’s some advice: When the waitresses circulate in the crowd, you might want to be ready with a tip.
A brave girl jumps from the rocks on the west side of Tubbs Hill as her two friends watch. (Don Sausser/Facebook photo)
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