“Pump Boys and Dinettes” features a talented ensemble cast, but you’ll wish Tony winner Levi Kreis wasn’t playing a mysterious silent type. At Village Theatre in Issaquah through Oct. 23.
Give the six writers of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” some credit — they certainly didn’t try to do too much. Plenty of musicals are padded out with unconvincing characters and contrived scenes, but not “Pump Boys,” which nearly does away with characters and scenes altogether to limit the interruptions between songs in its revue-like structure.
A minor Broadway hit in the early ’80s and a regional-theater mainstay ever since, “Pump Boys” isn’t exactly all-killer, no-filler, but Village Theatre’s slick production is fine entertainment, though you’ll have to have some fondness for pop-country tunes to get much out of it.
The setup is simple: A gas station and a diner are neighbors in the middle of nowhere North Carolina. The pump boys are more concerned with fishing and chasing pretty women than fixing cars, while the Cupp sisters run the diner — and don’t have time to think about much else.
‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’
by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann. Through Sunday, Oct. 23, Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, $35-$70 (425-392-2202 or villagetheatre.org); and Oct. 28-Nov. 20, Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, $30-$65 (425-257-8600).
Sure, there’s a requisite romantic conflict here — sheepish Jim (Joshua Carter) chose a fishing trip over a date with Rhetta Cupp (Sara Porkalob), and she’s none too pleased — but it’s merely a flitting distraction. More energy is expended on a raffle where one audience member wins a brand-new car … air freshener.
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“Pump Boys” was devised by what was essentially a pre-existing band, so every cast member has to be able to competently handle at least one instrument — and sing, of course. There’s no room to hide here, but director Brandon Ivie, Village’s new associate artistic director, has assembled a cast that doesn’t have to worry about that a bit. This is a talented ensemble across the board.
Carter’s aw-shucks wholesomeness makes him an ideal show host, even if he doesn’t have the necessary twang for a song called “Mamaw,” a stirring if overly folksy ode to Jim’s late grandmother.
The other ballads belong to Sylvie Davidson’s Prudie Cupp, whose crystalline voice is showcased in tear-jerkers “The Best Man” and “Sister.”
Otherwise, though, the songs are mostly upbeat, faux-rockabilly numbers or corny comic tunes (“Fisherman’s Prayer,” “Farmer Tan”).
Michael Feldman channels a little bit of Elvis in his funny performance as lovelorn Jackson, while the Tony-winning Levi Kreis is criminally underused as L.M. (Why cast the guy with the killer voice as the mysterious silent type? Yes, he has a couple of songs. No, it’s not enough.)
There is a star-making turn in this production, and it’s Porkalob’s high-energy, take-no-crap Rhetta, an assertive performance complemented by a powerful voice. Porkalob is one of Seattle’s most interesting performers, but her musical résumé has been somewhat limited up to this point. It shouldn’t stay that way.
Director Ivie apparently agrees, moving her number “Be Good or Be Gone” from the penultimate spot to the first-act finale, and Porkalob all but ensures you’ll head to intermission in a good mood.
The good mood persists across Village’s “Pump Boys,” which plays out on Andrea Bryn Bush’s gleaming, gauche set. With its shiny chrome detailing, immaculate brick walls and neon signs, it’s like an auto-shop-themed Guy Fieri restaurant — the perfect setting for a proudly unhip but plenty diverting show.