Ever since the British male striptease comedy The Full Monty became an art-house movie sensation in 1997, we all know what the title means: going all the way, letting it all hang out, showcasing your dangling participles. . . you get the picture.
That’s also the promise, not to mention the premise, of the Broadway musical version of The Full Monty, an Americanized affair that transplants the cinema’s blue-collar blokes from Sheffield, England, to the unemployment lines of Buffalo.
The Full Monty is the Redhouse Arts Center’s contribution to The District theater festival’s trio of rotating productions at the New York State Fairgrounds’ Empire Theater. This production shrewdly and lewdly gives the audience (which was predominantly female on opening night) exactly what it wants in terms of surface titillation, along with bonuses such as scenes of emotional depth and jumping production numbers.
The musical version opened in 2000, back when Rust Belt areas such as Buffalo were reeling from factory shutdowns; with the nation’s economic calamities occurring seven years later, The Full Monty seems even more timely. The book by Terrence McNally (Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune, The Ritz, Master Class) wisely doesn’t mess with the motivations of the main characters from the movie, if only because those themes are so universal.
For starters, out-of-work Jerry Lukowski (Brian Detlefs) has problems paying child support to his ex-wife Pam (Marguerite Mitchell), his high school sweetheart, with their teen son Nathan (Gabe DiGenova) caught in the middle of the domestic sniping. Meanwhile, Jerry’s best friend, doughy Dave Bukatinsky (John Bixler), likewise a casualty of the shuttered steel mill, is plagued by issues of self-worth and a deflating sense of manhood. “I want to feel like the husband/ Instead of the wife,” Dave sings in the opening number, “Scrap.”
Dave also believes his physical paunchiness has led to between-thesheets woes with his wife, Georgie (Jodie Baum), which leads to a string of flab-oriented repartee. “I try to lose weight,” Dave declares. “What happens?” Jerry asks. “I get hungry and I eat,” Dave responds. Jokes like that killed vaudeville, folks.
The striptease angle soon comes into play when Dave and Jerry are trapped in a men’s room toilet as they attempt to spy on a girls’ night out orchestrated by Georgie. The boys learn a little too much about the ladies—notably that they’re every bit as raunchy as the guys. When one female squats at a urinal, ringleader Georgie brays, “Don’t flush! They never do!” Yet the eavesdropping also uncovers some cracks in the Bukatinskys’ marriage, as well as Pam’s plans involving a new husband.
Ironically, the Chippendale stripper (played by Billy Ganey) that Georgie’s party has come to see also gives Dave and Jerry the harebrained scheme to mount a homegrown bump-and-grind routine for some fast bucks. But first they must recruit other unlikely candidates to flesh out, so to speak, the act.
They include the mill’s nighttime security guard, Malcolm (Anthony Malchar), and its former efficiency expert Harold (Stephfond Brunson, terrific as an uptight stuffed shirt), plus a geezer hoofer nicknamed Horse (Temar Underwood) and young hot-footer Ethan (Chris Baron), the latter almost breaking his neck as he tries to duplicate Donald O’Connor’s back flips from the “Make ’Em Laugh” number in the 1952 movie Singin’ in the Rain. As if to prove that anything goes in this show, out of nowhere pops up a musical accompanist named Jeanette (Tamaralee Shutt), a worldly wisecracker who helps the boys through their dance steps.
The Full Monty’s notion that characters who hit rock bottom must somehow resort to showing their bottoms could fuel a boatload of sociological studies. Still, McNally’s slight rewrite retains the original movie’s blue-collar bite and tosses a few cultural stereotypes to the curb. McNally’s attempts at local color, Buffalo-style, are mostly limited to Bills football references (so where are the bowling jokes?) and put-downs concerning “jobs at the mall,” which could be veiled knocks aimed at the Pyramid Companies’ Walden Galleria.
Monty’s musical version is also an old-school expansion that stretches the 90-minute movie to nearly 2 1/2 hours on the floorboards, with many of the leading characters getting a number to warble. It helps that composer and lyricist David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) offers a fun cornucopia of musical genres, from the funk of “Big Black Man” to the Latin-infused “Life with Harold.” For the song “Man,” Yazbek cleverly interpolates the familiar refrain from Elmer Bernstein’s movie theme for The Magnificent Seven (1960), also known to baby boomers for its use in macho Marlboro cigarette TV ads. The “Michael Jordan’s Ball” number, however, in which the guys emulate the former hoopster’s celebrated court moves, will likely date this show in a few years.
Set designer Tim Brown offers an impressionistic visualization of the Queen City, with a rotation of stylized panels depicting urban imagery such as old automobiles and run-down buildings in the background. Director Stephen Svoboda gently counters these abstract splashes by occasionally keeping it kitchen-sink real, especially concerning the Bukatinskys’ foundering relationship; simply put, they’re not Fred and Wilma Flintstonesky. John Bixler makes for a sympathetic and chunky Dave, while Jodie Baum (who was part of the female ensemble in the November 2005 Talent Company show) aces the harried housewife elements of her Georgie, while, of course, giving her all in big ensemble numbers (choreographed by Mary Angelo) such as “It’s a Woman’s World” and “The Goods.”
Indeed, there’s always something going on for this cast of 20 to tackle, with scene-stealing aplenty, some of it subtle, such as Temar Underwood as Horse (who resembles Danny Glover beneath that salt-and-pepper hairstyle) embarking on a lightfooted “Moonwalk” dance. Sara Weiler is an energetic fireball as Harold’s materialistic wife, Vicki, unaware of her husband’s job loss, as she manically tears through the “Life with Harold” song.
pianist Jeanette, Tamaralee Shutt amusingly emphasizes a host of showbiz
axioms. (“The audience can turn on you. Look what happened to Eddie
Fisher.”) Shutt also has a way with well-timed one-liners: When Ethan
exposes his attributes, Jeanette deadpans, “We have lots of glimmer.”
Even Billy Ganey, a performer at area bachelorette parties who is
well-cast as Monty’s cocksure Chippendale stripper, has one of the
show’s best lines: “Utica, here I come!” As Svoboda and Angelo steadily
build The Full Monty to its breathless finale, it’s evident that the
Redhouse is throwing a big party to herald The District’s arrival. This
well-choreographed and cheeky entertainment will be a hard act to top.
This production runs through Sunday, March 24.