From Ash to Pump Boy, Michael Tully Does It All

By Jillian Carter

Lincoln theatre-goers may remember Dr. Michael Tully as Ash in Evil Dead: The Musical, which was presented by TADA Productions, Inc. in both October 2017 and 2018. He is back on the TADA stage in August, leading the talented cast of Pump Boys and Dinettes. The 1982 Tony Award-winning musical is an interesting play that Tully describes as “almost a musical revue,” due to its focus on music with a loose storyline to keep things moving.

Robert D. Rook, director of Pump Boys and Dinettes, knew it would fit well into TADA’s season, but also knew “the challenge was finding actors who could pull off the requirements of the show.” The cast has to not only act and sing, but also play all the instruments onstage. Before he could firmly commit to producing Pump Boys, Rook decided to see if the multi-talented Michael Tully would be interested in becoming the musical director.

Tully had heard some songs from the show, but hadn’t really considered it much until Rook brought it to his attention. As Tully put it, “I thought, well, why not? It’s a little bit different of an approach, because it’s kind of like giving a concert, but you also have to deliver lines. It makes for a different experience as an actor.” With Michael Tully on board, as both musical director and an actor to sing and play mandolin, banjo, guitar, and harmonica in the show, as well as the rest of the dynamic cast, Rook felt he could confidently present an outstanding production of Pump Boys and Dinettes. After all, Rook says, “For a show like this, you need to have actors who can act, sing, and are real musicians.”

It’s not a stretch to call Michael Tully a ringer, given his pedigree. The Director of Musical Ministries for Trinity United Methodist Church trained as a boy soprano at a young age, performing as a classical singer through childhood and earning B.M. and M.M. degrees in Voice from Arizona State University and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from UNL in 2013. He clearly plays a ridiculous number of instruments, four of those featured in Pump Boys and Dinettes, and knows how to command a stage. First collaborating with Robert D. Rook in Beauty and the Beast as Gaston at Pinewood Bowl in 2005 and then as as Anthony in Sweeney Todd, the Fonz in Happy Days: a New Musical, and Smudge in Forever Plaid at the Lied Center.

Since he only has time to do one or two shows a year, it’s fair to say that Dr. Tully is passionate about the projects he chooses to pursue. He has enjoyed his time working on Pump Boys and Dinettes because of “the way the actors and musicians feed off of one another as we’re creating the music. It’s challenging, interesting, and very rewarding.” The show includes genres from early jazz to rockabilly, with Tully’s favorite song coming in the form of a tender John Denver-style folk ballad in “Mamaw.” Tully’s character uses the song to tell the story of growing up in his grandmother’s home, and it features some lovely, heartfelt harmonies. 

Pump Boys and Dinettes runs August 8th through 25th at the TADA Theatre in the historic Haymarket District. Other Lincoln legends, including Bill Maltas (The Waffleman) and Cris Rook, join Tully onstage, along with Beth King and Dietrich Hitt. The fun set is designed by Dustin Witte, who is known for his breathtaking artistry. A musical like this, with its casual fourth wall-breaking and multi-talented cast rotating through different instruments, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser in the TADA Theatre space. With several shows already sold out, it is a musical you won’t want to miss!

Jillian Carter is a playwright,  actress,  and director in Lincoln, as well as a community theatre columnist for Lincoln Journal Star’s Ground Zero.

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