Some things are simple. The appeal of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is one of them.
The song-and-dance show about small-town gas station attendants and waitresses is back by popular demand at Sierra Repertory Theatre. This is the fourth production of the show and will be helmed by returning SRT director Brian Swasey, who also oversaw last summer’s “RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women.”
“The most important thing for me is that this show feels like when you meet those small-town folk and they sit you down and tell you their life story,” Swasey said. “It’s very casual and relatable. I want to make a connection between performers on stage and audience so it doesn’t feel like they’re sitting down to a concert. It’s passing the time with them through stories.”
The setup is just as simple. The men who work at the garage and the sisters who run the diner next door take audiences on a musical ride. But unlike many musicals, the actors themselves provide all the accompaniment, singing and playing the instruments themselves as the simultaneous lead characters and house band.
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Los Angeles-based actress Karen Volpe, who plays dinette sister Rhetta, said the musical comedy reminds her of playing in her own family band while growing up in rural western New York state.
“My dad played guitar, Mom played the bass guitar, brothers played guitars and drums. I grew up playing country music and loved singing,” Volpe said. “So this show is like that, with everyone playing and all country music. For me, it’s really like where I came from as a kid, where going to the diner for the week was a huge deal. Your friends and family were all there and everyone knew the mechanic.”
Castmate Ben Williams, who plays gas station owner Jim, has his own personal connection with the show. Growing up in Wisconsin, Williams said, he has wanted to be in the show since his freshman year in high school. But when he auditioned at the time, he didn’t get the part.
“To come back to it now and be playing Jim, who helps navigate the play and evening, is a funny circling back,” said the New York-based actor. “Basically, the show is an opportunity to hang out with a cast of characters that you want to hang out with. It’s an opportunity to see the world of these characters that are broadly drawn but still real. It’s all about making the audience feel welcome.”
Returning Sierra Rep actress Ashley Whiting, who was last seen as an ensemble player in “Les Misérables,” said while there isn’t much on the page about each character, the show’s popularity transcends story.
“I think the big reason it’s popular is it’s a positive show,” she said. “Everyone loves the music, and it makes people feel good.”