Porchlight Music Theatre Presents PUMP BOYS & DINETTES Review — Ready to Fill Your Tank

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Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
(L to R) Billy Rude, Frederick Harris, Ian Paul Custer, Melanie Loren and Shantel Cribbs

When you take your seat at Porchlight Theatre, the folks onstage greet you warmly. They’re sorry your bus broke down in their rural North Carolina pit stop, but no worries: the gas station attendants will repair it while the girls from the Double Cupp Diner feed you. 

Sweet potato pie and cup of joe? Catfish and fries? Staying several feet back from the edge of the stage – a Covid-protection stance – sisters Prudie and Rhetta scribble orders from the stranded passengers (aka the audience). Soon, the cast of Pump Boys & Dinettes jumps into nonstop country rock and pop numbers. The pump boys clutch guitars and pound a piano while the dinettes sing their hearts outs and keep the beat with makeshift instruments. 

Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
(L to R) Melanie Loren, Frederick Harris, Shantel Cribbs
Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
(L to R) Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren

The Taste of the Pie, the Smell of the Grease at Porchlight Music Theatre

You may just about taste the pie and smell the grease as you scan the stage, divided between the roadside diner and the innards of a Phillips 76 station. Among the spot-on decor is a window with a neon open sign and a single squirt bottle of ketchup in view. On a crowded gas station shelf, a small fan references an era when gadgets were made of repairable metal instead of intractable plastic. 

Pump Boys & Dinettes had a long successful run at Chicago’s Apollo Theatre in the 1980s. Decades ago, a highway traveler could turn into a filling station where “boys ” not only pumped gas but also cleaned windshields, checked under the hood and gave directions. For this writer, a show that once projected nostalgia now seems almost historical. 

There are updates, most notably a shift from an all-white cast to a diverse one. The flavor of gospel coexists with the flavor of Elvis, emanating from Billy Rude’s pump boy Jackson. Rude wields a guitar and leaps with limbs that could be made of rubber. Full-voiced Frederick Harris as pump boy LM plants himself firmly behind the piano – unless he’s center stage to tell us about T.N.D.P.W.A.M -- The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine.

Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
(L to R) Frederick Harris and Billy Rude
Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
Ian Paul Custer
Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
Rafe Bradford

Only the thinnest storyline supports the songs. There’s no narrative context for Prudie and Rhetta’s Sisters number, lamenting how they grew up to become strangers to each other. But Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren make sense of the moment through their earnest delivery, in this reviewer’s opinion. The same could be said for the entire show. For those seeking a complex message, Pump Boys & Dinettes is unlikely to satisfy. If you’re up for a toe-tapping musical road trip, you’ll probably leave that tiny Southern town with a full tank and a full belly.

Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
Melanie Loren


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Co-authors: John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel & Jim Wann

Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
Billy Rude
Porchlight Music Theatre PUMP BOYS & DINETTES
Shantel Cribbs

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.


Rafe Bradford: Eddie Bass
Shantel Cribbs: Prudie Cupp
Ian Custer: Jim - Rhythm Guitar & U/S L.M
Frederick "Ricky" Harris: L.M - Piano
Melanie Loren: Rhetta Cupp
Billy Rude: Jackson - Lead Guitar
Caitlin Dobbins: Stand by Rhetta and Prudie Cupp
J.J. Smith: Stand by Jim and Jackson
Kelang Smith: Stand by Jim and Eddie



Through December 12, 2021

Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3:00 and 8 p.m. and
Sundays at 2 p.m.

Weekday matinees:
Thursday, Dec. 2 at 1:30 p.m.


The Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn St.
Chicago, IL 60610


Director: Daryl Brooks
Music Director: Robert Reddrick
Artistic Director: Michael Weber
Choreographer/Costume and Wigs Designer: Rueben D. Echoles
Production Manager/SM Swing: Jennifer Patricio
Co-Sound Designer: Eric Backus
Assistant Stage and Audio Engineer: Gianni Carcagno
Audio Engineer: Matthew R. Chase
Assistant Stage Manager and Wardrobe Manager: Andrea Enger
Production Stage Manager and AEA: Deya Friedman
Lightning Designer: Denise Karczewski
Scenic Designer: Sydney Lynne
Properties Designer: Caitlin McCarthy
Technical Director: Johnnie Schleyer
Co-Sound Designer: Stefanie M. Senior
Lightning Supervisor: Rachel West
Producing Artistic Associate: Rashaad A. Bond
Production and Operations Director: Alex Rhyan



For more information please visit Porchlight Music Theatre website.

Photos by Chollette

Photos by Chollette

Susan Lieberman
Susan Lieberman

About the Author: Susan Lieberman

Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows aired on BBC Radio 4 last season.

Editor's Note: Click here to find more Picture This Post reviews by Susan Lieberman

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