If your toes aren’t tapping, your head’s not bobbing and you aren’t grinning from ear-to-ear after Forum Theatre’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” your check-engine light must be glowing pretty brightly.
The energetic musical, which kicks off Forum’s 2017-18 season, is full of smoothness and sass thanks to the performers who play the grease monkeys and the greasy-spoon waitresses in the title roles.
The cast – who all look a little too young to be as world-weary and occasionally defeated as their dialogue suggests – share a rapport and camaraderie that emanates from the stage.
J. Clayton Winters, Stephen Hitchcock, Leslie Alan Coates and Ted Dvorak play the “Pump Boys,” aw-shucks kinda guys with various successes and failures in life and love, all while producing impressive musical harmony.
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Winters, a guest actor from Kansas City and the lead guitarist in the musical, brings a nice onstage banter with the audience before the performance begins. Hitchcock’s character L.M. gets some of the bluesiest songs of the night, with his own mic stand hidden backstage for special occasions. Coates does some nice work with the guitar and mandolin, and Dvorak’s Eddie scores with the ballad “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine.” (“Pump Boys” made its debut in 1972, and the Forum program says it’s set in present day, which leaves the character pining for the 71-year-old songstress.)
Jen Betcher and Katie Riggs score as the Cupp sisters – Rhetta and Prudie, respectively – at the Double Cupp Diner. Betcher is full of sass with the blistering “Be Good or Be Gone,” and the two create a melancholy moment with the song “Sisters,” which follows the waitress’ sultry plea for “Tips.”
Although originally conceived to have all of its onstage performers playing instruments in one form or another, this production of “Pump Boys” is backed by music director Tim Raymond on keyboards, and an unseen drummer off stage. The music is smooth with more of a country music flair than showtunes.
Directors Kathryn Page Hauptman and Gigi Gans create a friendly, relaxed and fun-filled atmosphere that extends throughout the performance – barely over 90 minutes, including an intermission where pie from Livingston’s Café is served.
Gans also choreographs “Pump Boys,” which doesn’t have excessive amounts of group dance but does have rather splendid tap sequences with the female “Dinettes” and Winters’ character, Jim.
Ben Juhnke’s set design is realistic yet theatric, with a fully complemented gas station and diner on stage.
Don’t go to “Pump Boys and Dinettes” expecting “Hee Haw” humor or a redneck revue. All of the characters are intelligent in their own ways, and none of the laughs are drawn at the expense of the others.
The result is a rip-roarin’ good time that’ll fill your entertainment tank.
‘PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES’
When: Through Oct. 15; performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Wilke Center, First United Methodist Church, 330 N. Broadway, Wichita
Tickets: $23 for Thursdays and Sundays, $25 for Fridays and Saturdays; available through the website www.forumwichita.com or by calling 316-618-0444