There’s been a lot of serious theater in the city lately – and it’s great, I love serious theater that tackles the big issues of our time.
But sometimes you want to kick back, crack open a cold one, and think of nothing deeper than the varieties of pies that Prudie and Rhetta Cupp serve. The Cupp sisters are the “dinettes” in “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” the Southern Fried Musical on stage at the Winter Park Playhouse.
“Pump Boys and Dinettes” is about as laid back as it gets, really more of a musical revue than a musical. There’s no strong story, just a collection of catchy, catchy country rockers with the occasional ballad, all performed with a wink and a smile.
As seen during a preview performance, Playhouse’s production hits all the right notes, from lively melodies to warm characterizations. “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is a bit of a spectacle, around 90 minutes including an intermission – but that means it never bogs down or overstays its welcome.
Prudie and Rhetta run the Double Cupp Diner, while a quartet of greasy monkeys tend to the garage across the street. Mechanic Jim has his eye on Rhetta – but she’s mad at him because he broke a date with her to go fishing. Oh, and everyone needs a vacation. If there’s more plot than that – and even that’s all done away with in a few lines of dialogue – you’d be hard pressed to find it.
It’s a show that relies on the appeal of the songs and the charm of the performers. Under the direction of Roy Alan, the Playhouse production succeeded in both areas.
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The songs, written by six friends in the early 1980s, are country-pop in nature while at times sounding like tongue-in-cheek country parodies (the comic strip “Farmer Tan” comes to mind). But musicality is serious business.
Music director Christopher Leavy is on the sidelines as LM mechanic, who had a revealing encounter with a certain country superstar (hint: she’ll still love you even when she’s working 9 to 5). Guitarist Ken Tibeau, as Jackson, gets ripped in “Mona,” an ode to a Woolworth cashier. The two return from the Playhouse production 12 years ago, this tour joined by guitarist Ned Wilkinson, who gives Jim an appealing gee-shucks demeanor, and bassist Nick Rosaci, who complements his musical skills as a good sport in a beautiful, wordless performance.
Heather Alexander, the executive director of Playhouse, is also returning. Playing Prudie again, she’s full of bonhomie and seeks out “The Right Man” in a moment of crowd interaction that’s more sweet than seductive. As sister Rhetta, Rebecca Jo Lightfoot can show sizzle in the jazzy “Be Good or Be Gone.”
It’s a spectacle of simple pleasures: the women add percussion with sugar bowls, washboards and simple pots and pans. Alan’s choreography includes not-so-simple tap dancing, but also the visually effective spectacle of Prudie and Rhetta fanning themselves in rhythm with plates in sync.
Monica Titus’ costumes and especially CJ Sikorski’s homemade ensemble are full of the kind of nostalgic touches that dream of the days when you could pay for your gas the next day if it was closing time.
There is something right about the relaunch of this musical in this particularly difficult time. No politics, no subtext, no argument – just a good helping of simpler times, a side of neighborly affection and a dollop of sentimentality. You come back now.
- Length: 1h35, intermission included
- Or: Winter Park Playhouse, 711 N. Orange Ave. at Winter Park
- When: Until June 12
- Cost: $39 to $46; $20 for students and workers in the entertainment industry
- Information: winterparkplayhouse.org
Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or write to me at [email protected]. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.