Last night in rehearsal, we ran the first act of Pump Boys and Dinettes, and I have to tell you – my toes are still tapping! To give you a sense of the atmosphere we’re creating onstage, here’s the white model, from set designer Vicki Smith. (To see how we got here, check out my post from our first design meeting for the show.)
As the name implies, it’s white (don’t worry – when you walk into the Wilson Mainstage at Geva for the performance, there will be plenty of color…Sean Daniels introduced readers to the concept of the white model in a previous post), so you have to use your imagination. But can’t you picture the tile floor on the diner side of the set, the red cushions on the bar stools, the neon lights flashing on the signs? And on the service station side of the stage, can’t you see the tires and the grease? I know I can already smell the oil, and I think I just heard the bell signalling a car arriving at the gas pump…
The show features choreography by Peggy Hickey, who I’ll introduce you to over the next couple of weeks. And let me tell you, when the cast starts dancing, and playing instruments AND singing, you can’t help but be transported. Last week, during our first read through, Peggy, director Mark Cuddy, the cast and I talked about the organic creation of the original production of Pump Boys and Dinettes. The creators (and original cast) of the show – John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann – were friends. Mark and Jim were performing in the former Cattleman Restaurant in New York City, and they were bored to tears. The late Mark Hardwick remembered it this way in a New York Times interview in 1983:
“I had an old gas station uniform that I’d been wearing with my name on it – actually it wasn’t old. I’d bought it new and I thought that was just the most new wave, wonderful thing to have. I thought, this is hysterical! And it ways, you know. So Jim decided to get one too, and he started writing songs about life in the gas station.
“People liked what Jim and I did – they wondered ‘Are they really gas station attendants?’ And we loved that, you know. So we decided to form a band of gas station attendants, and that was the Pump Boys.”
Mark and Jim may have loved it, but their employers did not. They were asked to leave, which may have been the best thing for their careers. At the time, Jim Wann was married to Cass Morgan, and she was putting together a show with her friend, Debra Monk.
Again, Mark: “We really were working separately. We weren’t going to come together, although I think we knew, deep down…that it was inevitable! But about six months before it happened, we were invited to play at a party, and the girls came in and did a couple of songs. When they made their entrance it was so strange and wonderful – these two waitresses coming from nowhere, with pies, and singing! People just screamed and howled and carried on – that’s how it happened.”
So they created a show together, and started performing at the West Side Arts Theatre in NYC. They performed in the 11pm slot, for just a few people each night. They produced the show themselves, and Cass and Debra made the pies in their apartments each day before the show.
Then, what every young performer in New York City dreams of happening – happened. “A review came out in the New York Post – a rave. Well, the tide turned – you could not get in. And the producers started coming. We had offers from five different producers. Blew us away! We were only there for about four or five weeks, total. We didn’t know what to do.”
What they did was move to Broadway, perform for 577 performances and earn a Tony nomination. Of that production, the New York Times claimed, “It doesn’t merely celebrate the value of friendship and life’s simple pleasures, it embodies them.”
If last night’s run through of the first act is anything to go by, Geva’s audiences are in for a similar treat!