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Driven by hugely talented cast, ‘Pump Boys & Dinettes’ serves up a good ol’ time

The material requires actor-musicians who can carry a show without the benefit of a plot or even a major conflict. The Porchlight Music Theatre ensemble does just that.

Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren are among the cast of “Pump Boys & Dinettes” at Porchlight Music Theatre.
Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren are among the cast of “Pump Boys & Dinettes” at Porchlight Music Theatre.
Photo by Chollette

Should you find yourself with an empty tank of gas and a hankering for a big old plate of catfish and spaghetti, you’ll want to head for the Double Cupp.

Not to worry if catfish with noodles isn’t your thing. The titular service-station attendants and waitresses of Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will make you feel heartily welcome. Directed by Daryl Brooks and running through Dec. 12 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, the energetic musical offers a slice-of-life at the down-home Double Cupp dinette/service station, conveniently located just off Route 57, somewhere in North Carolina.

There’s not much plot in the musical created by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann. Doesn’t much matter. As the six-member ensemble sings about fishing, pie, road trips, Walmart and romance, it’s as clear as a newly shined Winnebago windshield that music director Robert Reddrick knows his business.

The material might not be the deepest, but it’s a whole heap of fun. That’s thanks to the performers’ rollicking charm and — crucially — their vocals and their ability to be their own on-stage band. In addition to strings and keys, the cast plays wooden spoons, rolling pins, coffee cans, salt shakers and a foot tambourine.

Which brings us to Frederick Harris as L.M., piano-playing boss of service station attendants (aka pump boys) Jim (Ian Paul Custer, rhythm guitar), Jackson (Billy Rude, lead guitar) and Eddie (Rafe Bradford, bass). Everyone on stage is more than capable, but when Harris grooves through the woman-done-me-wrong-song “Serve Yourself,” it’s with a vocal range that basically goes from deep-sea fishing to celestial sunrise. It’s the third song in, and the number when “Pump Boys” really takes off.

Billy Rude (from left), Frederick Harris, Ian Paul Custerm, Melanie Loren and Shantel Cribbs star in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of “Pump Boys & Dinettes.”
Billy Rude (from left), Frederick Harris, Ian Paul Custerm, Melanie Loren and Shantel Cribbs star in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of “Pump Boys & Dinettes.”
Photo by Chollette

The “dinettes” are waitresses/sisters Prudie (Shantel Cribbs) and Rhetta Cupp (Melanie Loren), both of whom have plenty to say about trifling menfolk and people who don’t tip. Loren’s “Be Good or Be Gone” is a straight-shooting anthem that lets badly-behaving suitors know exactly where they stand and exactly where the door is. In one of the show’s best numbers, Cribbs and Loren duet on “Tips,” a marvelously blunt, bump-and-grind manifesto about leaving something behind for your servers. The number is also a showcase for Rueben D. Echoles’ choreography, which — like the score itself — drips with attitude. Rude brings a rockabilly energy reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis to Jackson. Bradford’s Eddie talks mostly with his thumping bass, providing a percussive foundation for the music.

The production plays out on Sydney Lynne’s set, which so realistic you can practically smell the motor oil and the pie. The stage — half dinette and half service station, both locales rich in detail from the massive neon-lit coffee cups beckoning travelers to the dinette to the shelves of spare parts crammed into the garage.

“Pump Boys & Dinettes” is a lot tricker than it looks: It requires actor-musicians who can carry a show without the benefit of a plot or even a major conflict. Brooks’ ensemble does just that. It’s a good time worth filling up on. Heck. You might even be the lucky audience member who wins a free Road Kill air freshener to hang from your car’s rearview mirror.

Frederick Harris and Billy Rude are shown in a scene from Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Pump Boys & Dinettes.”
Frederick Harris and Billy Rude are shown in a scene from Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Pump Boys & Dinettes.”
Photo by Chollette