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Monday
Apr012019

Mill Town Players "Pump Boys and Dinettes" Irresistible

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

Just in time for spring, the sunny musical "Pump Boys and Dinettes" has arrived at Mill Town Players in Photo Courtesy/Escobar Photographya terrific production guaranteed to please.

Director Reed Halvorson has cooked up a mighty tasty staging of this country-fried delight, which opened March 29 and continues through April 14.

The feel-good show centers on a group of down-home gas station guys and flirty waitresses who share their stories of heartbreak and hilarity through toe-tapping music and engaging vocals.

The backdrop for the revels is a combination gas station and diner located somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, North Carolina.

Because the two businesses never seem to have a customer, the young men and women have plenty of time to gab and croon. They sing tuneful and rambunctious songs about simple pleasures such as fishing, grandmas, springtime in Carolina, and "making love and watching TV."

There's not much of a plot to the show, but who cares? The men deliver homespun humor while the dinettes serve up plates of pie, cups of coffee and gallons of sass.

Our hosts share a motto: "Work won't kill, but worry will." What the pump boys and dinettes offer, then, is 90 minutes of carefree joy. A more ingratiating show -- funny, sweet-natured and just this side of cornball -- would be hard to find.

The fetching score, featuring more than a dozen tunes mostly by Jim Wann, ranges from country to rockabilly to blues and southern gospel.

The music is performed live -- always nice to see. The pump boys play guitars, bass, piano and drums. The women become a rhythm section on at least one song as well, beating on pots, pans and other kitchen utensils.

Will Ragland's set is a slice of Americana with the welcoming warmth of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Halvorson, the director, brings a breezy tempo and earnest appeal to the production. He elicits natural, nimble performances from his talented cast of eight.

Austin Finley plays the easygoing and amiable Jim, the master of ceremonies. Finley takes the lead vocals on several songs, perhaps most poignantly on "Mamaw," a sentimental tribute to a beloved grandmother: "Didn't you find my sheriff's badge when I was 7? Didn't you let me drive your car when I was 11 and a half? Didn't we laugh?"

Austin Smith is Jackson, a more extroverted gas station attendant, sporting shades. Smith lets loose in high-octane fashion on the rockabilly "Mona," about the object of Jackson's affections, a "dime-store dream."

Mark Spung-Wiles has some great comic moments as L.M., a country nerd with the heart of a class clown. He sings the show's funniest songs with gusto, including the dynamite blues number, "Serve Yourself." Another song, "Farmer Tan," reveals the secrets of L.M.'s appeal: "two-toned biceps and an ivory chest."

Kelly Davis, beaming an irresistible 100-watt smile, brings a country perkiness to waitress Prudie Cupp. She sings a smoothly articulated "The Best Man," about the one that got away.

Hannah Morton, as Rhetta Cupp, soars on the bluesy "Be Good or Be Gone," making it a showstopper.

Together, the waitresses Davis and Morton bring down the house on the assertive "Tips" (about a waitress' best friend) and then tug mightily on the heartstrings with the follow-up: "Sister," about the barriers that can exist even between close siblings.

David Sims, as Eddie the bassist, provides an amusing contrast to the good ol' boys. He towers in the background, cool and mostly inscrutable behind shades.

David L. Watson dazzles on the keyboards and Kip Brock keeps up the momentum on drums.

Joshua C. Morton's musical direction is vigorous, polished and professional.

For tickets to this buoyant "Pump Boys and Dinettes," visit www.milltownplayers.org or call 864-947-8000.

Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes often about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7. 

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