CLO’s Pump Boys and Dinettes is Kitchy Fun

Pump Boys and Dinettes, a musical comedy written by Jim Wann and Mark Hardwick in the late 70’s, opened at the CLO, bringing a light-hearted repertoire of melodies to a mixed bag of theater and non-theater folk. The wide-spanning show follows slack-jawed gas station attendants (Pump Boys) and spit-fire waitresses (Dinettes) through a back and forth war of songs and dances, all the while exploring the mysteries of catfish (Actual catfish, not MTV catfish), dating, the mystique of Dolly Parton, and of course, tipping your waitress.

While the music selection of the show was heavily country based, they rolled out folk, blues, and even a ballad or two. The audience swooned as the performers interacted with crowd, even giving away high-end car air fresheners with elegant aromas like bikini, and skunk.

The show was technically stellar, and not one performer missed a beat. It was refreshing to witness how musically in tune they were. I began to wonder if they really hung out with banjos and ripped jeans eating pie on top of gas pumps after the show. The crowd was chomping at the bit to clap along, and much to my chagrin, I was right next to an alcohol-inspired table-top drummer who played along to every.single.number. White Russians (sometimes) don’t mix well with theater, but other than a few fiery patrons, the crowd oohed and aahed, and for good reason.

Justin Bendel (Eddie), Dave Toole (Jim), John Rohlf (Jackson),and Luke Steinhauer (L.M.)

The strength of the show was the cast’s vocal robustness, and there were two clear standouts, Dave Toole, who played Jim, and Drew Leigh Williams, who played Rhetta Cupp.

Toole’s voice was crisp and powerful with spot-on delivery, timing, and balance. During his solos, he almost peaked into rock-mode, as he effortlessly streamed. Toole doubled vocals with very competent guitar, and engaged the audience with some good ol’ southern charm.

Williams, an absolute vocal powerhouse, rocked and rolled with soulfully crafted numbers, phenomenal control, and runs for days. Oh yeah, sass…She had lots of sass. And even with her massive chops, Williams also delivers tender moments in her sets, taking the audience on an intimate journey with each note. If you’re a lover of vocal mastery, she’s the reason for the season.

Drew Leigh Willams as Rhetta Cupp and Erika Strasburg as Prudie Cupp

Honorable mention to Luke Steinhauer, who played L.M., as he absolutely shredded the piano every chance he got.

The show has very little dialogue, and doesn’t hit every comedic element, which muddled some of the transitions to song, but for the most part, the progression was fluid, and the audience was fully engaged.

And while this musical menagerie won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it provides a stunning showcase of phenomenal talent that will most certainly entertain, and is well worth a night out on the town. Pump Boys and Dinettes runs through April 16th. For more information, visit the CLO

Production Photos: Matt Polk