For Bikers and Folk Fans 

Hal Hundley departs from his norm to present 'Pump Boys and Dinettes'

Hal Hundley's back in town. He's started a new musical theater company, and he's putting on a show this weekend.

A show that, oddly enough, doesn't really reflect what Hundley intends to accomplish with his group.

Roundabout Music Theatre is presenting Pump Boys and Dinettes, a country-music revue. "It's not typical of what I do," Hundley admits, "and it's a little difficult to put together, because it's mostly music, not much dialogue, and actors play the musical instruments instead of having a separate orchestra."

Hundley is usually a traditional book-show kind of guy. He founded SALOC--the Southern Arizona Light Opera Company--in 1976, launched it with the musical 1776, and then went on to standard Rodgers and Hammerstein-style fare. That's the sort of thing Hundley intends Roundabout to present in the future, on a reduced scale, but for now, he wanted something that would appeal to both bikers and Woody Guthrie fans--he hopes to draw an audience from this weekend's Tucson Thunder biker gathering and the Tucson Folk Festival. The Sound of Music probably would not have been a good choice.

Regarding Pump Boys and Dinettes, Hundley says the focus is more on the work of the music director and choreographer than the stage director. "With a book show, I have a lot of line and blocking work to do in telling the story," he says. "But here, the story is in the musical numbers; I just have to guide the look and the overall feel of the show."

Even when Roundabout gets back to traditional story-driven projects, Hundley intends to operate on a smaller scale than he did at SALOC, which presented casts of dozens, big sets and a full orchestra to crowds in the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall. Roundabout, in contrast, operates in the TCC Leo Rich Theater, a quarter the Music Hall's size. "I'm using the premise of Reprise in Los Angeles and Encore in New York," he says: "scaled-down productions with not much in the way of sets, a reduced orchestra sharing space with the actors on stage, a smaller cast. When we did Cabaret in December, we had 16 people in it, but when I did it for SALOC and Playbox before that, it had close to 30 in it. So the concentration here is on the acting and the singing as opposed to the big sets."

What a turnaround for Hundley, whose trademark used to be thinking big. That's why he parted ways with the modest Playbox Community Theater in the 1970s; the board felt his ambitions to produce a show in the Music Hall were beyond the company's modest abilities. So Hundley founded SALOC, put on a show in the Music Hall and launched what was for a while a successful company with a devoted fan base. But in 1983, artistic differences again sent Hundley packing. For a while, he worked with a company in Colorado, then spent a few years as a casting director in Hollywood. He was involved in projects like Isle of Lesbos, Fish Don't Blink and other films you'll not find in the Oscar section at Casa Video.

Meanwhile, SALOC fell into the hands of Glenn Cook, who put more effort into getting his relatives on the payroll than getting quality on the boards. Reviews became dismissive; checks started bouncing; and the company went bankrupt in 1996. Touring companies filled the void--currently, Broadway in Tucson is the major player in this field--but homegrown productions of traditional musicals were few and far between.

Hundley returned to Tucson in late 2004, established an interior-design business here and, even though he's entering his late 70s, let himself get talked into starting another theater company.

Pump Boys and Dinettes will feature New York actor Paul Gregory Nelson (he's also choreographing the show), but otherwise, it will be populated by local talent. Of Nelson, Hundley says, "He's easy to work with. All the actors who work with me are easy. I'm the prima donna."

Indeed, Hundley is reputedly a tough, exacting director, but not so tough that some of his old SALOC performers haven't signed on for Roundabout productions. "My SALOC people are coming back to me," he says, "but they're no longer of the age that they can play the youngsters."

Thus, casting has been his biggest challenge. Hundley wants his company to emphasize community-actor involvement, but for Cabaret, he hired three ringers from out of town. "I did not have a turnout for auditions of people who could handle those roles in the quality I wanted," he says. "I'd rather not bring in people from out of town; that's costly to us. But the show comes first."

Shows coming third, fourth, fifth and sixth after Pump Boys will include, in August, the premiere of Outlaw Heart by former Tucson and Phoenix music critic Kenneth LaFave; in October, Guys and Dolls; in January, South Pacific; and in early May 2008, Kismet, which Hundley says hasn't been produced in Tucson since he did it with SALOC in 1977.

"I'm going to do those three warhorses next year, because I found when I had SALOC that I had to build up the reputation of the company with the warhorses people would come to before I could put on shows that were unknown," he says.

Well, he's made an exception for Pump Boys and Dinettes. Hundley admits, "I'd never even heard this show before I decided to do it, but it's been a lot of fun getting it together."

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