Toe-tapping ‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’ returns to Chicago
Loop North News

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(Above) Melanie Loren sings in Porchlight Music Theatre’s take on the long-running musical. Photos provided by Porchlight Music Theatre. Click on images to view larger versions.

One of the longest-running shows in Chicago theatre history is back, still with a heapin’ helping of down-home hospitality and southern charm.

16-Nov-21Pump Boys and Dinettes ran for 245 weeks at The Apollo Theater in Chicago – from 1984 to 1989 – closing on July 9, 1989, after 1,976 performances. When it opened on October 30, 2021, at Porchlight Music Theatre, it had a new song in its repertoire of toe-tapping, high-octane, high-spirited musical numbers.

The biggest difference now is the casting of talented black performers who take on the roles of a traditionally all-white cast, creating a more realistic, diverse atmosphere in the workplace as well as the stage.

Porchlight Music Theatre

It is a multi-talented cast of six over-the-top performers who will have you keeping the beat to the guitar, piano, and bass.

(Left to right) Billy Rude, Frederick Harris (at piano), Ian Paul Custer, and Melanie Loren.

So, turn off the road to Highway 57, somewhere between Smyrna and Frog Level, North Carolina, and mosey on up to the Double Cupp Diner. Need a fill-up for your car or your stomach? This is the place to get both.

Meet sassy sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp, who are ready to welcome you with a cup of Joe, a slice of pie, and a homespun song, detailing their heartbreaks and triumphs. They add to the music with their own brand of instruments – pots, pans, and kitchen utensils.

The four guys at the station – Jim, Jackson, Eddie, and L.M. – sort of work on auto repairs, but only when it doesn’t interfere with having a beer or a good time.

But the real star of the show is the music. When L.M. belts out Serve Yourself, he nearly stops the show. His The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine is a hoot, while Jackson’s phenomenal guitar playing takes you back to the days of a swaggering Elvis. And the girls’ mellow ballad of sharing their childhood, Sisters, is poignant indeed.

(Right) Frederick Harris as L.M. and Billy Rude as Jackson share the limelight.

Porchlight Music Theatre

While the plot is light as pie, you do get a glimpse of small-town life and blue-collar living, best described as drinkin’, fishin’, and beggin’ for tips.

It is directed by Daryl Brooks, who grew up in a small town in Virginia.

“When Porchlight asked me to direct Pump Boys, I realized that it was time to show off the diversity not just in the people, but the music,” said Brooks. “At every turn, this show will be a slice of comfort and excitement, just like a piece of my grandma’s lemon meringue pie.”

The outstanding cast of Porchlight Music Theatre’s Pump Boys and Dinettes features Rafe Bradford (Eddie - Bass), Shantel Cribbs (Prudie Cupp), Ian Custer (Jim - Rhythm Guitar), Frederick Harris (L.M. - Piano), Melanie Loren (Rhetta Cupp), and Billy Rude (Jackson - Lead Guitar).

Porchlight Music Theatre

(Left) Billy Rude rocks it out.

Musical direction is by Robert Reddrick and choreography by Rueben D. Echoles. Mention must be made of the amazing set design by Sydney Lynne, who recreates the perfect gas station interior and inviting diner. It’s authentic and real.

The show was created by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Tony-award winner Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann. It was Wann who wrote the Chicago production’s new song, Surf Castin’ Man, sung by Harris and cast.

When it first opened on Broadway in 1982, the show was nominated for multiple Tony awards and has played to audiences across the United States.

Pump Boys and Dinettes is playing now through December 12 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 North Dearborn Street. Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m., with a weekday matinee on Thursday, December 2, at 1:30 p.m. Single tickets are $45 to $74 and subscriptions to the entire season are available.

More info and tickets: Porchlight Music Theatre

By Mira Temkin | Loop North News | miratemkin@gmail.com

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