On The Highway… Route 57 to be Precise

This afternoon, after a morning dim sum run to Empress Pavillion in Chinatown with ixixlix, the Karate Kid, and ellipticcurve, we made our way to the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to see the San Fernando Valley Playhouse production of Pump Boys and Dinettes. For those unfamiliar with the show, PB&D is a review-style musical written by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann. You might recognize these folks from shows such as Oil City Symphony, Radio Gals, The People Vs. Mona, and Jim’s Garage. The play is about the Highway 57 Service Station, staffed by L.M. (Martin Alexander Fox), Jackson (Casey Gensler), Jim (Jimmy Bishop), and Eddie (Joe Link), and the Double Cupp Diner, staffed by Rhetta (Catherine Battocletti) and Prudie Cupp (Tara Tucker). The story (such as it is) is about…. OK, there really is no story; the play is an opportunity for the actors to perform and interact with the audience. That they do: there is a raffle for a car deodorizer (you get your choice of the christmas tree, the tweety bird, or the pinup girl), the cast is out in audience, and the front row gets to dance. I’m surprised (and thankful) they didn’t do the hokey-pokey during intermission.

The music has a country-western feel, as one would expect from a gas station near Smyrna, GA. All of the actors were talented musicians, although some of the instruments (in particular, the piano) could have been mic-ed a bit better. They were mostly good singers; I don’t know if the weaknesses were due to poor mic-ing or weak voices. Some of the songs needed to be belted, and they weren’t. I also found the tempo on some of the faster songs to be slower than I expected, but that could have been due to being used to a recording.

As for the music: this show has some of my favorite music to listen to for toe-tapping, so it was nice to hear the songs in context (such as it is). I noticed some changes in songs; in particular, “Woolworth” was changed to “Walmart”. Times change, I guess. Most of the actors were imports (i.e., without long local resumes) from outside California; many are associated with Mainstage Artists Management out of St. Louis, and there seemed to be a lot of association with Minneapolis MN.

This evidently is the first formal year (2004 was their opening season) for the San Fernando Valley Playhouse (although I seem to recall a series last year). They must do a bunch of group sales; there was a large number of seniors in the audience. At the beginning of the show the executive director (James Blackman III) welcomed folks, asked for their input, noted he didn’t like their last show, and made it clear he was “out”. As he pointed out, you don’t see Gordon Davidson doing that. Will we be back to the SFVP? Depends on the production. The seating and view lines were great, so it is likely.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]