Sit a spell with laid-back, entertaining ‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’

There has been a lot of serious theater around town lately — and that’s great, I love serious theater that tackles the big issues of our times.

But sometimes, you want to kick back, crack open a cold one and not think about anything deeper than what varieties of pie prudie and Rhetta Cupp are serving up. The Cupp sisters are the “dinettes” in “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” the Southern-fried musical onstage at Winter Park Playhouse.

“Pump Boys and Dinettes” is about as laid-back as it gets, really more a musical revue than a musical. There’s no strong story line, just a collection of toe-tapping catchy country rockers with the occasional ballad, all performed with a wink and a smile.

As seen at a preview performance, the Playhouse’s production hits all the right notes, from snappy melodies to warmhearted characterizations. “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is a wisp of a show, roundabout 90 minutes including an intermission — but that means it never gets bogged down or overstays its welcome.

Prudi and Rhetta run the Double Cupp Diner, while a quartet of grease monkeys man the garage across the way. Mechanic Jim has his eye on Rhetta — but she’s mad at him because he broke a date with her to go fishing. Oh, and everybody needs a vacation. If there’s more plot than that — and even that’s all dispensed with in just a few lines of dialogue — you’d be hard pressed to find it.

This is a show that relies on the appeal of the songs and the charms of the performers. As directed by Roy Alan, the Playhouse production succeeds in both areas.

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The songs, written by six friends in the early 1980s, are country-pop in nature while sometimes sounding like tongue-in-cheek country parodies (the comic “Farmer Tan” comes to mind). But the musicianship is serious business.

Music director Christopher Leavy is on the keys as mechanic LM, who had a revelatory encounter with a certain country superstar (Hint: She will always love you even when she’s working 9 to 5). Guitarist Ken Tibeau, as Jackson, lets ‘er rip in the driving “Mona,” an ode to a Woolworth cashier. The two return from the Playhouse production 12 years ago, this go-round joined by guitarist Ned Wilkinson, who gives Jim an appealing gee-shucks demeanor, and bassist Nick Rosaci, who complements his musical skill as a good sport in a fine, wordless performance.

Heather Alexander, the Playhouse executive director, also returns. Once again playing Prudi, she’s full of bonhomie and looking for “The Right Man” in a crowd-interaction moment that’s more sweet than seductive. As sister Rhetta, Rebecca Jo Lightfoot gets to show some sizzle in the jazzy “Be Good or Be Gone.”

This is a show of simple pleasures: The women add percussion with sugar shakers, washboards and simple pots and pans. Alan’s choreography includes some not-so-simple tap dancing, but also the visually effective spectacle of Prudi and Rhetta rhythmically fanning themselves with dinner plates in synchronization.

Monica Titus’s costumes and especially CJ Sikorski’s homespun set are full of the kind of nostalgic touches that make one long for the days when you could pay for your gas the next day if it was closing time.

There’s something just right about reviving this musical at this particularly fraught time. No politics, no subtext, no arguing — just a hefty serving of simpler times, a side of neighborly affection and a dollop of sentimentality. Y’all come back now.

  • Length: 1:35, including intermission
  • Where: Winter Park Playhouse, 711 N. Orange Ave. in Winter Park
  • When: Through June 12
  • Cost: $39-$46; $20 for students and entertainment-industry workers
  • Info:

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