Buffalo Theatre Guide - September 7, 2018 - by Nathan Miller
There’s a palpable excitement in the air in the Buffalo theater community…it’s Curtain Up season! Theaters across Buffalo are putting their best foot forward and presenting a show as part of the annual celebration of the Community, taking place this year on Friday, September 14th! MusicalFare’s offering is “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” a musical revue which takes audiences “down on Highway 57” to an auto shop and diner. Members of the cast directly involve the audience as they provide insight into what it means to be a “pump boy,” filling up gas for the cars that stop in, or a waitress at the adjacent “dinette.” The show itself has little plot to speak of, but MusicalFare’s production makes the best of what’s there with some quality musicianship and a fun-loving approach.
The obvious strength to the MusicalFare production of “Pump Boys & Dinettes” is the multi-instrumentalists that make up the ensemble. The group, specifically the “pump boys,” play almost every instrument at least once. As Jim, the “host” of the evening, Ryan Kaminski is the perfect country guy, with a guitar in hand and dream in heart. Kaminski is in his element, he’s a singer-songwriter himself, so he lets the music tell the story. He’s at his best when Jim sings a touching tribute to his grandmother, who has passed away. Kaminski gets in a rotation on bass and piano as well. Supporting Kaminski at the station are pump boys Eddie, L.M, and Jackson. As the quiet and reserved L.M, Joseph Donohue III is certainly enjoying himself. He makes the most of the character; an ad lib here, a take to one of the waitresses there. As previously mentioned, there’s not much by way of libretto in this show. It succeeds when the characters are having fun telling stories and playing songs. Donohue is having fun doing both. He plays the heck out of the piano, and manages to work a guitar, accordion, and fiddle into his rotation as well. Andrew J. Reimers and Jayson Clark, both members of Local 92 AFM (musician’s union) are terrific in their supporting roles and are accomplished players of pretty much every instrument you can think of to support the evening’s country, blues, and rockabilly styles. Clark is especially engaging while playing slide guitar.
As far as the waitresses go, Maria Droz and Jaclyn Lisenby Brown provide a good blend of humor and storytelling by song. Brown is an accomplished vocalist and is obviously very comfortable with this style of music. Droz is known for her roles as comedienne, but her voice packs a powerful punch. She’s in her element too, showing off a distinct triple threat, especially in a specialty tap number. She also serves a hilarious turn as Dolly Parton in a hilarious Donohue ballad, T.N.D.P.W.A.M. (The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine). I felt, however, that both Brown and Droz were at times too heavily choreographed, which led to Brown occasionally appearing under-rehearsed in the choreography. This was, I’m sure, the by-product of seeing an opening night performance.
As a night of theater goes, MusicalFare has provided one as enjoyable as they come. Expect to be entertained without having to think too much, which is just what the doctor ordered. The performers are truly singer-actors, and when all six of them are singing together, they’ve accomplished a blend that’s hard to come by. They’re enjoying performing together, and that’s the best kind of show for an audience to watch. If you have 90 minutes (including a 15-minute intermission!) check out “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” running through October 7th at MusicalFare.
BuffaloVibe - September 8, 2018 - by Ann Marie Cusella
Highway 57 in South Carolina is only 25.9 miles long, a rural road that begins at place you've never heard of and ends at the North Carolina state line. A car repair shop and gas station sit along the highway, run by two local boys, Jim and L.M., along with their two employees, Eddie and Jackson. The shop sits across the road from the Double Cupp Diner, the domicile of sisters Rhetta and Prudie Cupp. These six people are the Pump Boys and Dinettes, in the slice-of-life musical that opens the season at MusicalFare Theatre.
Not a lot happens on the Highway. Cars get repaired, or not. People stop for gas. Patrons love the pie at the diner, and the free second cup of coffee. Life flows along, and not much changes. As Jim says, “Work won’t kill you, but worry will.” Even so, like everyplace else, love is in the air and therefore so is the sweet tension that goes along with it.
Jim is the young man who introduces the players to the audience and generally explains things as the show moves along. Ryan Kaminski, with his guitar slung over his shoulder, gives a fine performance as the “emcee,” witty, charming and very much embodying a man who knows his place in the world and is content with it.
Maria Droz is his love interest, Rhetta. She is a first-rate comic actor and knows how to sell a song. She is terrific in “Be Good Or Be Gone.” However, she plays her part too broadly in this show. She is often more of a caricature of a Southern dinette than a real woman who runs her own business. By playing Rhetta this way, the director (Chris Kelly) runs the risk of mocking this rural culture rather than giving the audience the opportunity to experience it as a genuine part of American life.
That is the only caveat I found in this otherwise excellent production. All the players are very talented musicians and singers. They play multiple instruments, from spoons to a cheese grater to the piano, a dobro, a banjo, a bass guitar, myriad other guitars, an accordion, the drums, and on and on. Joseph Donohue III (L.M.) is a brilliant piano player. Jayson Clark (Eddie) speaks seldom but says a great deal with his facial expressions while he’s drumming or strumming. Andrew Reimers (Jackson) plays a mean bass and then picks up a guitar and does a bit of Elvis in his song “Mona,” the girl who's his dime store dream. Jaclyn Lisenby Brown (Prudie) is a recent transplant from Nashville. This is her first show in Buffalo, and it is hoped, the first of many. Her solo “The Best Man” highlights her melodious voice.
The songs range from the sweet a capella “Fisherman’s Prayer” to the rocking “Drinkin’ Shoes.” The dinettes tap dance in that one, tapping always being a plus in any show. Ballads and blues and country and rock are all present and accounted for in this tight 90-minute production.
Chris Kelly chose his actors well. Their various talents meld together to provide a delightful musical evening. Music Director Robert Insana won an Artie award as Jim, so he knows this show inside and out. It shows in his use of the many talents of his musicians. Lynne Koscielniak designed the set. One side of the stage is the shop, with the highway separating it from the diner. The shop has a worked-in feel, with tools and hubcaps on the walls. You can almost smell the motor oil. The dinette is clean, with their famous pies on shelves and a board with the daily specials. Both are realistic and detailed.
Pump Boys and Dinettes is a sweet piece of American pie that has not one serious moment. It plays at MusicalFare Theatre until October 7th. As a bonus, after the show, the actors perform in the Cabaret while audience members enjoy a post-show beverage.