“Pump Boys and Dinettes” takes WCU back to the 50s

The musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is a commemoration of everything that is great about being in a small highway town somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, North Carolina in the 1950s – a few, tight-knit people that treat you like you are part of their family, a place where you can go get gas and a full meal at the same time and some great music as well.

Western Carolina University’s Musical Theater program put this show together on Sept. 26-29 in Hoey Auditorium. Directed by Brenda Lilly,  the show supported a small cast of five, but the actors worked together perfectly. The set was well put together in a decidedly hometown manner. The Pump Boys service station and the Double Cupp Café stood connected just off Highway 57, where “You can eat and get gas.”

A team of six people wrote the musical – John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann, the same team who played the characters in the original Broadway production.  

In the musical, the Pump Boys run the gas/service station, while the Dinettes run the Double Cupp Café. The three Pump Boys, L. M., Jim and Jackson, were played joyfully by Will Bryant, Michael Gallagher and Peter O’Neal. The two Dinettes were two sisters named Prudie and Rhetta Cupp, played by Madeline Seagle and Jaclyn Helms.  

Two musicians accompanied the ensemble, a piano player, Nathan Thomas also known as “Eddie”, and a bass player, Cal Olivier. Unlike most musicals where the musicians are forgotten and hidden below the stage, these musicians were included as a minor part of the cast. Thomas consistently answered the phone for the cast members, who usually ignored the phone.

Some of the song topics were silly like fishing adventures, items on the Double Cupp menu, catfish and farmer’s tans. Others were more serious in nature, but all of them were performed incredibly.

All of the songs were choreographed by Karyn Tomczak, and while a lot of the dancing was cheesy, it entirely fit the musical. A favorite dance number was “Mona”, which featured O’Neal as Jackson and some fantastic Elvis-style dancing by the whole cast. During the show, Some of the songs, while enjoyable, felt a little random. For example, the song “Mamaw” came completely out of nowhere, and its topic was never mentioned again for the rest of the musical.

“Pump Boys and Dinettes” was thoroughly enjoyable.

Becky Lindsay, who is a member of the Student Support Services staff, said that “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is one of her favorite plays.

“This play is all about timing – and they had it down perfectly!” said Lindsay.

Brandon Almand, a student of the Stage and Screen department, thought that the musical was “absolutely fantastic.”

Everything about this show fit together well, from the actor choices to the set design to the costuming, and it was a performance worth seeing twice.