Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Pump Boys and Dinettes
The Palms Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of The TomKat Project, Buyer & Cellar, Motown the Musical, Sweet Charity, The Wedding Singer , The History of the Devil, and Avenue Q

The Cast
Set in a small town in North Carolina, Pump Boys and Dinettes is a fun-filled show with a folksy charm set against a backdrop of country, pop, and gospel tunes. While there is little to the plot or story, it takes you back to a simpler time and the laid-back ways of the South where the talk centers on dating, drinking, fishing and the local shopping mall. Currently at The Palms Theatre, there is also plenty of toe-tapping and hand-clapping songs, and an energetic cast led by the stellar voiced Rob Watson.

Written by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann (all of whom starred in the 1981 original Off-Broadway production and the following year on Broadway), the musical tells the story of the men who work at a gas station and auto body shop on a quiet spot on Highway 57 and the two sisters who run the diner on the other side of the highway. The energetic songs tell about the characters' experiences, romantic encounters, their love of fishing and their grandma, work and the need to get away for a vacation. It is a slice of life show, with minimal plot, but full of charm and funny jokes and characters. The added impact of all five of the male actors being very capable musicians elevates the musical into much more than just the sum of its parts.

Director David Simmons is an actor and musician so he understands the demands of being able to effectively do both at the same time, and he has assembled a very talented cast, including many Palms regulars. Rob Watson is Jim, the main narrator of the show, and his excellent voice is used to great effect throughout, especially on the a capella "Fisherman's Prayer." Jim is part owner of the Pump Boys gas station, and Watson brings a keen sense of the easygoing, laid-back lifestyle to his performance. Danny Karapetian is L. M., Jim's partner in the shop, and the two portray a realistic working relationship of friends who constantly joke with each other. Karapetian plays the piano well and sweetly sings a couple of the show's ballads, including the one hit song that came out of this show, "The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine." Jim's fishing buddy Jackson is played by John Thomas Hays who is a skilled guitarist and vocalist. His solo of "Mona" is a highlight.

The spunky, eager, and always ready to please Prudie Cupp and her sister Rhetta Cupp, who serve up homemade pies at their Double Cupp Diner, are played by Caitlin Newman and Kira Galindo. These two actresses have an abundance of sass and exceptionally strong voices that really makes their songs and interactions with the "boys" and the audience pop. Alex Mack and Matt Drui round out the "boys" and, though they don't get much to do vocally, both are exceptional musicians, with Mack's energetic guitar playing and Drui's intense drumming adding a nice depth to the songs. Drui and Hays also have a blast on a brief Stomp-like percussion segment where they pound on large tractor tires, gas cans, and hubcaps to create a musical symphony.

Simmons and Khris Dodge's combined musical direction achieves lush harmonies from the cast as well as a vibrant sound in the clear and in-sync musical accompaniment. Watson also provides the colorful set design which, with the abundance of realistic props from Kira Galindo, really makes the body shop and diner come to life. Tia Hawkes' costumes are down-home authentic and Michael Haslanger's excellent lighting design adds plenty of ever-changing color to the stage.

Sure, Pump Boys and Dinettes is hokey, and a show that some people who like more traditional musicals might not quite enjoy, but it is also a fun show with songs and a setting that are nostalgic. Part musical theatre, part country-rock concert, the Palms Production has an enthusiastic cast who are also gifted musicians. While it is a short show, running just over 90 minutes, it is energetic, full of down to earth characters and down-home fun.

The Palms Theatre production of Pump Boys and Dinettes runs through May 16th, 2015, at 5247 East Brown Road in Mesa. Tickets and information for this show as well as their series of productions and concerts can be found at or by calling 480 924-6260.

Directed by David Simmons
Musical Director: Khris Dodge and David Simmons
Tap/Choreography Consultant: Lauran Stanis
Set Design: Rob Watson
Lighting Designer: Michael Haslanger
Costume Designer: Tia Hawkes
Props Mistress: Kira Galindo
Production Stage Manager: Rob Watson

Cast: (in alphabetical order)
Delbert Hazen Keister: Matt Drui
Rhetta Cupp: Kira Galindo
L.M.: Danny Karapetian
Eddie: Alex Mack
Prudie Cupp: Caitlin Newman
Jackson: John Thomas Hays
Jim: Rob Watson

Photo: Mike Benedetto / Palms Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix