As a first-time viewer of Pump Boys & Dinettes, a nearly 40-year-old musical that showcases the depth and breadth of Black acting, musicianship, and choreography, I was surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) to learn that Porchlight Music Theatre’s racially diverse casting was the exception, not the norm. Under the direction of Black Ensemble Theater producing managing director Daryl Brooks, what’s old becomes new, inclusive, and an incredibly fun 90 minutes of frothy musical theater. Brooks even engaged one of the show’s original writers, Jim Wann, to add a new song that honors the Black experience in the South.
Pump Boys & Dinettes
Through 12/12: Thu 7 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM; also Thu 12/2, 1:30 PM and Sun 11/21, 6:30 PM; no show Thu 11/18 and 11/25, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, 773-777-9884, porchlightmusictheatre.org, $45-$74.
Early on in the show, the good-humored and instrument-playing group of gas station attendants and dinette servers offer up this homespun adage: “Worry is like a rocking chair—it gives you something to do but it don’t get you nowhere.” What follows is an antidote to all our COVID-related worry and a solid choice as Porchlight’s return to live theater. Things could feel corny with the emphasis on catfish, pie, and the occasional roadkill-scented car freshener, but Pump Boys, while light on plot, is an engaging jukebox of catchy anthems, soulful ballads, and innuendo-filled musical comedy. Melanie Loren and Shantel Cribbs are standouts as sisters Rhetta and Prudie Cupp, serving up laughs with “Tips” before slowing things down with “Sister,” a melancholy homage to a difficult childhood. Frederick “Ricky” Harris is a doo-wop rock star on “Serve Yourself” and carries his physical comedy and emotional range throughout, while Rafe Bradford as Eddie is the straight man every group needs with bass riffs for days.