News Column

Musical fixture around town takes on acting role in 'Pump Boys'

May 14, 2013

YellowBrix

May 14--Brent Stimmel has quietly lived a double life. He's the IT director at Cape Fear Academy by day, and the lead singer of the Brent Stimmel Band on weekends.

Recently, he's been exposed.

Stimmel accepted the role of Jim in Thalian Association's production of "Pump Boys and Dinettes," a story of four gas station attendants and two waitresses working along Highway 57. The show opens Thursday, May 16, at Thalian Hall for a two-weekend run.

The publicity material from the Thalian Association features the Brent Stimmel Band prominently. That prompted one of his coworkers to make the connection between the IT guy and the featured performer on a theater poster.

"You're not the same Brent Stimmel that's in 'Pump Boys,' are you?" the coworker asked.

Indeed he is.

Stimmel has been a performer for years, playing gigs in venues around Wilmington with his band or as a solo singer/songwriter. He has never, however, performed in a theatrical production in Wilmington.

For "Pump Boys and Dinettes," though, Thalian Association artistic director Tom Briggs and director Debra Gillingham needed musicians who could act.

Music director Jonathan Barber said they used a similar process for casting Medusa Stone frontman Justin Fox in "The Buddy Holly Story" in 2010.

"We knew we couldn't wait for auditions and just hope that three guys who knew how to play the bass and guitars would just walk in," Briggs said.

After checking out some online video footage, they talked to Stimmel. After a short reading, they offered him the part and he recruited his bandmates, Nick Loeber and Les Britt, who added inherent chemistry but no acting experience. Stimmel said Britt is "extremely shy" and that he didn't expect him to accept the part.

"Nick was in right off the bat," Briggs said. "With Les, it took a little convincing."

That's understandable, because Britt didn't sing much with the Brent Stimmel Band.

"Leslie Britt is an incredible lead guitarist," Stimmel said. "But he's really never sung before. This has been a real growing experience for him."

Barber had the added challenge of teaching music to performers -- Britt and Stimmel -- who don't read music.

"I give them parameters and tell them to keep it in this framework," Barber said. "A lot of times, it comes out a lot better than what's printed in the score."

The music in the show crosses genres from country to blues to gospel. And it fits the cast just right.

"The songs are really poppy, catchy and kind of country, which is right where these guys live," Briggs said.

The rest of the cast includes actresses Rasa Love and Amanda Hunter and piano player Michael Lauricella, who teaches music at Bradley Creek Elementary School.

"They've been really, really wonderful," Stimmel said of the theatrical veterans. "They are the glue that has held it all together. It's good that some of the people in the room knew what they were doing."

At Sunday's rehearsal, director Gillingham observed from various audience viewpoints and then stepped on stage a couple times to tell Britt to move a step closer to the gas pump or for Stimmel to take a step back behind the piano.

"They are way out of their comfort zone,' Gillingham said. "But they are performers, and that has allowed them to pick it up reasonably easy."

Mike Voorheis: 343-2205

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(c)2013 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

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