‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’ at Porchlight Music Theatre radiantly outshines its script

Porchlight Music Theatre kicks off its 27th season with what it calls a “a country fried phenomenon,” and I can assure you it is precisely that. Set in a North Carolina diner/filling station somewhere off the highway, Pump Boys and Dinettes provides a scintillating peek into the lives and relationships of the guys and gals of the Double Cupp Diner.

Featuring a creative team that consists of core members of Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theatre, this production is a love letter to hometown hospitality and nostalgia. Daryl D. Brooks’ direction is straightforward and concert driven, and works in smooth cohesion with the distinctive and stellar music direction by Robert Reddrick. The choreography by Rueben D Echoles gives the musical numbers an easygoing feel, and never distracts from the vocal prowess of the ensemble. The production stays devotedly true to its backroad roots, shying away from the modern audience’s expectations at every turn. While the book does very little to build the world of the play or illuminate its characters, the score distracts from the musical’s more shallow notes and eventually builds to a very heartfelt goodbye.

This gleeful cast of skilled performers fill up your cup with genuine showmanship and make you very glad to have made the pit stop. An obvious asset to the production is Frederick Harris, whose instinctive piano playing and high tenor crooning as L.M. are radiant highlights. Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren achieve vocal perfection as dinette sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp. Their duet together “Sisters” is the beating heart of the second act, while Loren’s rendition of “Vacation” brings the show to a fever pitch. Also among the cast are Ian Paul Custer, whose exuberant portrayal of Jim works as an easy counterbalance to the more steamy and smooth performance of Billy Rude as Jackson. The concept of the musical is heavily overshadowed by the ability of the cast, and leaves you yearning for a little less diner time and a lot more “off the clock” adventures. Once Chicago’s longest running musical, Pump Boys and Dinettes is an easy watch — and a wonderful way to welcome yourself back into the sweet graces of Porchlight Music Theatre.

Pump Boys and Dinettes runs at Porchlight Music Theatre through December 12th.

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Rafe Bradford (Eddie – Bass)
Shantel Cribbs* (Prudie Cupp)
Ian Paul Custer (Jim – Rhythm Guitar)
Frederick Harris (L.M – Piano)
Melanie Loren* (Rhetta Cupp)
Billy Rude (Jackson – Lead Guitar)
Caitlin Dobbins* (Standby for Rhetta and Prudie Cupp)
J.J. Smith (Standby for Jim and Jackson)
Kelan Smith (Standby for Jim and Eddie)

Daryl Brooks (director)
Robert Reddrick (music director)
Rueben D. Echoles (choreographer/costume designer and wig designer)
Jennifer Aparicio (production manager/SM swing)
Eric Backus (co-sound designer)
Gianni Carcagno (assistant stage manager/assistant audio engineer)
Matthew R. Chase (audio engineer)
Andrea Enger (assistant stage manager/wardrobe manager)
Deya Friedman (production stage manager)
Denise Karczewski (lighting designer)
Sydney Lynne (scenic designer)
Caitlin McCarthy (properties designer)
Johnnie Schleyer (technical director)
Stefanie M. Senior (co-sound designer)
Rachel West (lighting supervisor)
Rashaad A. Bond (producing artistic associate)
Alex Rhyan (production and operations director)
Michael Weber (artistic director)

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