By GUY D’ASTOLFO
It will be a reunion on stage — and probably in the audience, too — when Easy Street Productions presents “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”
The lighthearted musical has a special place in Youngstown theater history.
Not only was it the longest- running show in the city’s modern history, but it also was the piece that marked the arrival of Easy Street.
“Pump Boys” ran for 200 performances over a two-year span that began in May 1989 in the Uptown Theater on Market Street.
Easy Street was just getting started in those days. The troupe took over the closed Uptown, which had 276 seats, retrofitted the stage for live theater, and before long, “Pump Boys” had taken on a life of its own.
The reopened theater caused excitement. It gave former residents a reason to come back to the old neighborhood where they grew up. It even stirred up a mini-wave of economic activity with bars and other businesses springing up on the block.
To mark its 25th anniversary, Easy Street is bringing back “Pump Boys” for seven performances over two weekends, beginning Friday. It will be at the 600-seat Ford Family Recital Hall, downtown, a new and intimate theater that Easy Street co-founder Todd Hancock says is perfect for the show.
Tickets are moving briskly, spurred by audience members who remember that first production.
“We sold 1,000 tickets in the first two days of being on sale,” said Hancock. “To say people have been waiting for this is an understatement. We’ve taken calls from people who said ‘I saw it seven times’ or ‘I saw it 19 times.’ It was the kind of show that you took your relatives to see when they came back to town for a visit.”
Exactly what is the attraction of “Pump Boys”? It’s not hip and it’s certainly not an extravaganza of special effects.
But Hancock might know one secret for its long run.
“I don’t know what it is about the show, but for some reason, we all fit these characters very well,” he said, referring to the cast. The actors, he explained, had such a good time on stage that the audience did as well.
While the plot may be lightweight, “Pump Boys” is big on boisterous, country-tinged singing and dancing.
The cast members play all the instruments.
“It’s low-budget and unpretentious,” said Hancock, “with ’50s music and cars. It doesn’t take itself seriously.”
Those early productions also featured a lot of improvisation each night and some audience participation.
“We talked directly to the audience,” said Hancock. “It was something kind of new back then.”
In addition to the musical’s mystique in these parts, there is another reason for the buzz surrounding the revival.
Even though it’s coming 22 years after the original closed, all six members of that original cast are returning and playing their original roles.
“Pump Boys and Dinettes” is set inside the Double Cupp Diner and the adjacent gas station, where two waitresses (played by Maureen Collins and Robyn Elia McCamy) and four gas pumpers (Hancock, Rick Blackson, Jeff Sanders and Don Creque) work.
Getting the six actors together took some doing.
The troupe had tried unsuccessfully for years to revive the show before finally putting it together.
“It was probably never going to happen, but somehow, all the planets got in line,” said Hancock.
“We tried to do it for our 20th anniversary but couldn’t, so we turned to our 25th anniversary. I reserved the dates at [Ford Recital Hall], and it finally came together this past Christmas.”
Just as in the original production, the stage will be decked out in authentic diner and gas-station trappings.
Items that will add to the charm will include an old Coca-Cola sign, a phone booth and an actual hot rod — all on loan from Youngstown-based automobile memorabilia collector Jerry Dixey.
Saturday’s performance will be preceded by a classic-car show and block party from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Symphony Place, in front of the theater, featuring beer, food and music by Oldies 106.1-FM.
A cast party will follow from 8:30 to 10 p.m. at V2 Wine Bar on West Federal Street, just two blocks away.
The performance will begin at 10:30 that night.