Hickdom and country music prove universal
LOWE DOWN | By JIM LOWE
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company opened its 79th season with a slice of Vermont hick.
Although the effervescent country musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is ostensibly set in North Carolina, it could just as easily be in any yet-to-be-yuppified part of the Green Mountain State.
Spectacularly staged, the 1982 Broadway hit opened Friday at Weston Playhouse in a charming, witty and particularly well-sung performance that was just plain fun.
When the show’s six stars went on to perform in Weston’s après-theater Cabaret, it turned out that they weren’t quite the hicks they seemed just a while earlier.
“Pump Boys and Dinettes” was created by the New York City country band of the same name — John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann. (Morgan, who lives in Saxtons River, was a consultant for the production.)
The setup is pretty obvious: The Pump Boys are four good ol’ boys who work at the local garage and gas station, while the Dinettes are two sisters who work at the diner next door. The interaction among the six is also somewhat predictable but, like the songs, very reassuring — and fun.
Leading the fun is the gregarious Jim, performed with a natural charisma by Jason SweetTooth Williams, authentically delivering the “little boy” side of good ol’ boy. His light baritone was especially effective in “Mawmaw,” a paean to a not so motherly mother, tender and not.
Contrasting that was the brash take-no-prisoners Rhetta Cupp, given passion by Molly Hager. That was most evident in “Be Good or Be Gone,” when Hager gives her powerful voice to a scorned woman’s ultimatum. It certainly stopped the Pump Boys in their tracks.
Perhaps the most tender musical moment came from sister Prudie. In “The Best Man,” Grace McLean proved a lyrical and sensitive singer in this universal expression of hope. On the other hand, the two sisters together were a riot.
Mixing pathos with the ridiculous, Seth Eliser, as Jackson, the group’s Casanova, sings of his beloved Mona, an unattainable mall store clerk. It’s touching and hilarious.
Joe Iconis is the garage’s boss, L.M., a particularly able multi-instrumentalist who led the group, most of whom proved quite able on one or more instruments. Lorenzo Wolff was Eddie, a man of few words, and en excellent bass player, both electric and stand-up. Three also proved fine tap dancers — though it is doubtful that this was part of the original.
Directed by founding director Tim Fort, with music direction by Josh Knight, Friday’s performance was imaginatively and skillfully staged. But the physical production was spectacular with an extravagant and evocative set by Russell Parkman, brilliantly lit by Stuart Duke.
Weston’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is simply delightful light summer fare. On Friday, the performers seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the most enthusiastic audience.
But there’s more. For audience members who choose, there’s the Cabaret for dessert (both figuratively and literally), providing sometimes bawdy, always fun entertainment by the Young Company with snacks and desserts from the Playhouse restaurant (also available for pre-show dinner).
However, for the run of “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” members of the Young Company are joined by Iconis & Family — a song and dance troupe that is the actual cast of the show. On Friday, the very talented Young Company performed musical comedy skits, notably “The History of Musical Theater … in Vermont.” It was a riot — and very well sung.
For the second act, Iconis, an award-winning Broadway songwriter, led his troupe in some of his original songs. These were comic storytelling songs employing a diversity of wit, enthusiastically performed by the cast of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”
At Weston Playhouse, there apparently can’t be too much of a good thing.
Jim Lowe is music critic and arts editor for the Rutland Herald and The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.