Waiting on Highway 57...
The pump boys are four garage hands in blue overalls, the dinettes two waitresses in pink dresses and flat white shoes, and they all hang out in a service station on Highway 57. The Open sign is up, but nobody turns up for gas or pecan pie, presumably because word has got round that the staff do nothing much except sing Country and Western songs from dawn till dusk.
This may not sound a very promising basis for a musical - twenty two unrelated songs, no story, no book and a picture of Dolly Parton on the wall. But in a charming sort of way, the show does have the courage of its lack of convictions and David Taylor's company is a most likeable and talented assortment led by the ever-youthful Paul Jones and the delightful Kiki Dee.
There is nothing up the sleeve here, and it is all the more credit to the company that they have managed to make their own a show that was performed in New York by the six authors, among whom Cass Morgan and Jim Wann were prominent.
The cast shamble on, plucking at guitars and even picking their noses. Not the most dynamic of openings, but it does give you the chance to enjoy Tim Goodchild's design of the Double Cupp diner which extends into the auditorium with bunting and coloured lights reaching to the big open bar at the back of the stalls. The proscenium area is a riot of tyre signs, car junk, ketchup bottles, red stools and a service counter across the stage from Brian Protheroe's beaten-up piano.
Even if you are not a devotee of country music, the songs do cover a wide and interesting range of blues styles and are more evocative of Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash than of Jim Reeves and Tammy Wynette. Paul Jones brings back memories of his Blue Bank days blowing a very fine and mean accompanying harmonica, Gary Holton is lean and boney on bass guitar, and talented Julian Littman on rhythm.
All the music comes from onstage, with turns being taken on the percussion, which section is augmented with much banging of coffee pots, wooden spatulas and kitchen spoons. Pairing off with Kiki Dee is Carlene Carter, a well contrasted voice, and they share a touching sisterly double act towards the end.
This versatility onstage is one of the evenings chief pleasures. Everyone can pick up a guitar or an accordian, and the standard of singing and harmonisation is very high. There are good acoustical effects, and the excellent sound system by Jonathan Deans of Autograph is well tuned and balanced.
The show is hardly likely to change the course of musical history, but it does confirm the talent we possess in the ranks and provides good-natured, undemanding entertainment.
Taken from The Financial Times, September 24 1984