Stage preview: Getting the band together for 'Pump Boys and Dinettes'
February 2, 2017 12:00 AM
From left, the Cupp sisters of CLO Cabaret's "Pump Boys and Dinettes": Drew Leigh Williams and Erika Strasburg.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The lives, dreams and music of the six friends in “Pump Boys and Dinettes” are familiar to Ben Klein, who, like the characters in the Tony-nominated musical, hails from North Carolina.
The four Pump Boys work at a gas station across the street from the Double Cupp Diner and the Cupp sisters — aka the Dinettes — who waitress there. By night, they make music together, with the guys playing guitars, banjo, piano and bass and the ladies as the percussion section, “playing cheese graters and wooden spoons and rolling pins and napkin dispensers — anything that is part of the world they live in,” said Mr. Klein, who is directing the latest offering from CLO Cabaret.
‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’
Where: CLO Cabaret at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown.
When: Through April 15. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays (see pittsburghclo.org for exceptions).
Tickets: $38.75-$59.75; pittsburghclo.org or 412-456-6666.
The musical, which was on Broadway in 1982, jumps among genres such as Southern rock, pop, country and bluegrass.
“Although it was written in the ’80s, we’ve worked at bringing it a bit more toward modern music,” Mr. Klein said. “But every couple of years, whether it’s Carrie Underwood or Sturgill Simpson, who was just on ‘SNL,’ even Taylor Swift, these artists who start in Austin or Nashville, they may start in the country realm but then they kind of cross over into the pop world, and I think we’ve tried to do that with this version of ‘Pump Boys.’”
The typically long CLO Cabaret run of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” required actor-singer-musicians who could mesh as characters and as a band, which also was in Mr. Klein’s wheelhouse. The director’s father was a concert promoter in North Carolina, “so I fell in love with music before I fell in love with live theater, and I work in musicals because I think it’s a combination of that.”
This particular musical has the added dimension of placing him in familiar territory. “Its charm and appeal is having virtuosic musicians in front of you, and also delivering a warm, heartfelt message and being true to characters who I think are very real people,” he said.
The cast comprises Justin Bendel (Eddie), John Rohlf (Jackson), Luke Steinhauer (LM), David Toole (Jim) and the Cupp sisters, Erika Strasburg (Prudie) and Drew Leigh Williams (Rhetta). Mt. Lebanon native Steinhauer has appeared in three Pittsburgh CLO shows and with Ms. Williams is a newcomer to the CLO Cabaret.
Mr. Bendel was there at the beginning — the bassist played more than 400 performances with CLO Cabaret’s first “Forever Plaid” production and was part of last year’s “First Date” production for Mr. Klein. Mr. Toole, besides being a busy musical theater actor in Pittsburgh, is a guitarist and lead singer for the band Identity X, while Mr. Rholf last displayed his musical versatility for CLO Cabaret in “Ring of Fire.”
For auditions, some actor-musicians came with ukuleles and one, with a melodica. “And Jon Rholf, he’s a one-man band,” the director said of the Point Park University alumnus. “The tricky part with him is, how do we limit it so that he’s not switching off every single song and scrambling all over the place, trying to figure out, ‘Now what do I play?’”
Ms. Williams has been an instructor with Clarion University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania and most recently was living in Chicago when she won the role of Rhetta, opposite sister Prudie — Ms. Strasburg, a busy Pittsburgh actress out of Carnegie Mellon University.
Together, they have to become believable friends and form a band that will play the Cabaret at Theater Square through April.
“The last thing I said as I was leaving, ‘You guys have a gift to be able to run this so many times,’” Mr. Klein said. The director also told his cast not to underestimate the show. “It’s all on them, which is really exciting. They set the tempo and they make it all happen.”
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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