Tight harmonies and a loose country-rock vibe are on order in Theatre Raleigh's Pump Boys and Dinettes. Before it became the hot trend of the mid-'00s, the characters on stage in this 1982 musical were also its band. L.M. (Ethan Andersen), who keeps the books at the filling station, is the production's musical director. Mechanic Jim (a convincingly scraggly Travis Artz) sings male lead and plays guitar, while Prudie (Dakota Mackey-McGee) and Rhetta Cupp (Emily Firth), who work at the Double Cupp Diner, handle percussion and female vocals.
There are one or two change-ups under Tim Seib's direction. When we saw it, the band gave the bum's rush to "Taking it Slow" after rousing opener "Highway 57." And this group shifted smoothly between the a cappella four-part harmony of "Fisherman's Prayer," the rockabilly riffs of "Mona," and the Bayou-inflected grooves of "Drinking Shoes."
The hairpin emotional curves remained occasionally awkward, with a maudlin memorial to "Mamaw" sandwiched in between an ode to catfish and the no-nonsense women's anthem "Be Good or Be Gone." The weepy "Sisters" still seems air-dropped in from a show in which the female leads have been estranged for years instead of palling around all night. But Pump Boys remains a generous slice of '70s-era Southern Americana—a roadside attraction well worth taking in.