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Bare feat
The Full Monty struts its stuff

The Full Monty
Book by Terrence McNally. Music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Directed by Jack O’Brien. Choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Sets by John Arnone. Costumes by Robert Morgan. Lighting by Howell Binkley. Sound by Tom Clark and Nevin Steinberg. Music direction by Ted Sperling. Conductor Ben Whiteley. With Jennifer Naimo, Christian Anderson, Michael J. Todaro, Geoffrey Nauffts, Christopher J. Hanke, Bret Fox, Whitney Allen, Robert Westenberg, Heidi Blickenstaff, Carol Woods, and Cleavant Derricks. At the Colonial Theatre through June 30.

If you ask me, this is too full a Monty, clocking in at almost three hours with intermission. The admitted charms of the feel-good musical based on the 1997 British film about a team of unemployed steelworkers who put on a strip show to earn money are stretched thin over the course of a long evening. Still, the material is ripe for musical pickings: guys rehearsing a show lend themselves more readily to song and dance than, say, wheat threshers or political assassins. And in an era dominated by Sondheim, there’s something refreshing about an old-fashioned book musical with a catchy (if generic) R&B-influenced score. Besides, who wouldn’t root for The Full Monty, a worthy underdog that was nominated for 10 2001 Tony Awards but took home none in the wake of the record-breaking onslaught of The Producers? The show is almost as much of a luckless hero as its cadre of six Chippendale wanna-bes, who take it all off for love and money.

It’s ironic that this slightly raunchy paean to ordinary joes waggling " the goods " before their friends and neighbors should be the sweetest, most old-fangled show to pass through town in a while. Librettist Terrence McNally moves the film’s setting from Sheffield, England, to Buffalo, New York, and he underlines the journey of the show’s good-hearted proletarians from macho boneheadedness to naked sensitivity. At the beginning, the out-of-work steelworkers transfer their anger at the plant’s closing to the women who usurp their manhood, " fairies " who dance for a living, and anything that stands between them and the next beer. By the end, not only are they " man " enough to put their limited dancing skills and imperfect bodies on the line, they’re even supportive of two of the brethren who turn out to be gay. Fledgling Broadway composer/lyricist David Yazbek mixes funk and sentiment in equal parts, with the funk being far preferable. At the core of the show, though, is the odyssey of ex-foreman Jerry Lukowski — who bristles with love for his 12-year-old son but is threatened with losing him for failure to pay child support — toward responsible fatherhood. This can get so mawkish that it’s a relief when the musical lays off the heart strings and brings out the G-strings.

Indeed, the best parts of The Full Monty are the comic ones, some of them skillfully extracted from the film, a few added by McNally, including the Big Sassy Mama–type accompanist who just shows up, piano and all, when Jerry advertises auditions to put his get-rich-quick plan into motion. In the capable hands and booming delivery of Carol Woods, this stereotypical character rocks with authority and has a lot of the best, most reactive lines. Similarly surefire are the tryouts themselves, with an unsuccessful auditioner’s hilariously inept turn followed by Dreamgirls star Cleavant Derricks’s metamorphosis, as middle-aged African-American Noah " Horse " Simmons, from morose defeatist fired by McDonald’s to slightly stiff but smokin’ " funky-chicken " purveyor par excellence on " Big Black Man. "

In general, the ironic songs win out over the soupy ones, the best being " Big-Ass Rock, " in which Jerry and his soulful if avoirdupois-burdened best buddy, Dave, having accidentally rescued factory acquaintance and mama’s boy Malcolm from suicide, bond with him over ways in which they might facilitate his endeavor. " You’ve got a friend, " they harmonize in Carole King fashion while dreaming up helpfully homicidal schemes that range from tickling " your wrist with a single-edge razor " to buying " you a beer with a Drano chaser. " It doesn’t help the tender tunes that sinewy Christian Anderson, whose Jerry is the most believably working-class of the heroes, is a somewhat grating singer.

Jack O’Brien is at the helm of the likable production, with some muscular dance turns by Jerry Mitchell, including the first-act finale, " Michael Jordan’s Ball, " in which the choreographically impaired would-be wigglers devise their routine from quick-footed, high-jumping, interweaving basketball moves. And Robert Westenberg, a Drama Desk Award winner for his salacious Wolf in the original Into the Woods, gives a subtly consternated performance as Harold, the MBA trapped into the role of strip-team player coach, that is funnier than the more aggressive turns.

In the end, The Full Monty follows twitching backsides with obscuring back-lighting. So don’t head for the Colonial if where you really want to be is Route One. But if you’re more interested in a big heart buoyed up by some saving drollery than in what the show, in one of many euphemisms, calls a " big bundle, " you’ll have fun.


Issue Date: June 20-27, 2002
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