The Double Cupp Diner is back in business. No spot was hotter in the Mahoning Valley than the diner where sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp served up southern fare and the neighboring Pump Boys took care of all your automotive needs.
The musical "Pump Boys and Dinettes" ran for 200 performances between 1989 and 1991 (that's longer than it lasted on Broadway), first at the Oakland Center for the Arts and then at the renovated Uptown Theatre on Youngstown's South Side.
Now, 25 years after Easy Street Productions first introduced the Valley to the musical by including several songs from it in the 1988 revue "429 Miles Off Broadway," "Pump Boy and Dinettes" is returning for a two-weekend run with its original cast in tact.
The cast of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” as they looked in 1989 — from left, Jeff Sanders, Robyn McCamy, Todd Hancock, Don Creque, Maureen Collins and Rick Blackson.
Reassembling those parts took a lot of planning ... and a little luck.
Easy Street co-founders Todd Hancock (Jim) and Maureen Collins (Prudie) still are active locally, and Rick Blackson (L.M.) lives in the area and performs with his wife, Mary Jo Maluso, in a cabaret act among other musical pursuits.
But Robyn McCamy (Rhetta) now lives in Nashville, Jeff Sanders (Eddie) is in Chicago and Don Creque (Jackson) calls Las Vegas home, and they have jobs, families and the responsibilities that come with them.
WHAT: Easy Street Productions - "Pump Boys & Dinettes"
WHEN: 8 p.m. May 3 and 10, 10:30 p.m. May 4, 7 p.m. May 5, 2:30 and 8 p.m. May 11 and 2:30 p.m. May 12
WHERE: Ford Family Recital Hall, DeYor Performing Arts Center,
260 W. Federal St., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: $28 adults, $23 senior citizens and students and $15 children ages 12 and younger for all performances except for the 10:30 p.m. show May 4, when all tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call 330-743-8555.
Hancock considered mounting a 20th anniversary production, but there wasn't enough time to put it together. He wasn't going to make the same mistake again.
"Two years ago, I told everyone the 25th anniversary is coming up," he said. "If I tell you two years in advance, can you do it? I reserved the dates at Powers two years ago hoping it would be 'Pump Boys."'
It wasn't until December 2012 that everyone could commit, and it only was possible because McCamy now is self-employed and has a more flexible schedule and Creque no longer is working at the same place and has been a stay-at-home dad while pursuing other opportunities.
"If it wasn't for this economy, Jackson might not be here," Creque said.
Coming back to play Daddy Warbucks in Easy Street's production of "Annie" last fall and doing "Pump Boys" again has rekindled his interest in theater, which he didn't have time to pursue with his old job.
"It's a great thing for me to have Easy Street in my life," he said. "Robyn, Rick and Jeff, Maureen and Todd, we were a group that was very successful at putting on a show for 200 performances. That's unheard of around here. It's an amazing story to tell and I'm going back to do it again."
Sanders and McCamy came back around Easter to rehearse with Hancock, Collins and Blackson, and Creque got into town Monday to start preparing for the seven shows. Each has a DVD recording of their original production, but nothing can take the place of interacting with each other.
Hancock, who directed the original production, said his philosophy is if it ain't broke, don't fix it, "But as we rehearse, I think there will naturally be things we change. So much of the show was improvisational anyway. We were always adding things. But we want to remain true to what people remember."
Hancock still has many of the props that decorated the stage at the Uptown Theatre, and the larger stage at the Ford Family Recital Hall will allow for even more detail.
"The set itself will be a museum of garage and diner memorabilia," he said. "There will be a real hot rod jacked up on stage. I'm like a kid in a candy store getting to play with all of these old things ... The people who came to the Uptown would just stare at the set because there was so much going on. That's what I'm excited about. I'm excited about tweaking and improving it a little bit and poking fun that, 25 years down the highway, we're still the 'Pump Boys and Dinettes."'
Collins said it's hard to remember just how young - and in some cases, naive -they were when "Pump Boys" opened. After they'd been doing the show for about a year, McCamy asked Collins, "What do you think our dogs names are?" At first she thought McCamy was engaging in a little deep Method character exploration. Instead, she was referring to the line how, at the end of the day, "My dogs are plum wore out."
"She didn't know they were talking about feet," Collins said. "After that, every time she sang it, she would point to her feet, like 'I know what it means now.' I still tease her about that."
Collins has plenty of other memories from that two-year run. She and McCamy go out into the audience during the song "Tips" to collect money, and someone once slipped her a $100 bill. When they did the show at Powers Auditorium in 2000 (with all of the original cast except for Blackson), they collected about $500 in tips at one performance.
Then there was the night when Blackson spilled a glass of water into his keyboard and had to dry it out on stage with a hair dryer.
"We weren't sure it was going to play anymore, and Todd is up there ad-libbing the whole time," she said.
They also did multiple performances some days, a public performance and a private show booked as a fundraiser. One time they were getting ready to leave after a matinee when they saw folks arriving for another show, Collins said. No one remembered it was on the schedule.
"What are you coming to see? 'Puttin' on the Ritz?' OK, 'Puttin' on the Ritz' it is. Put on another pot of coffee," Collins said.
Hancock said they made so many friends during the original run. Some of the people who won car air fresheners at "Pump Boys" went on to work on future Easy Street shows. The first day tickets went on sale for the reunion shows, Easy Street sold more than 1,000 tickets, and Hancock said it seemed that everyone who called to place an order had a story about how many times they saw the show at the Uptown or how many out-of-town guests they brought to see it.
Of all the friendships, none compares to the one the cast shares.
"These are five of my favorite people in the world," Hancock said. "It's like a party on stage. It's not even like a real show; it feels like it's just us screwing around. We're putting on a bit of an accent and reading lines, but it just feels like me having fun with my friends."
Because of another event booked earlier in the day at the recital hall, Easy Street will be doing a late show at 10:30 p.m. on May 4, which will be preceded by a car cruise in from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and a pre-show meet-the-cast party from 8:30 to 10 p.m. at V2 downtown. But they've already added an additional matinee performance on May 11 to accommodate ticket demand.
"Believe me, if it fills up, I'll add another one," Hancock said. "I only have them for two weekends and I'm going to take advantage of it."