By Philip Pearce
The Full Monty or Much Ado About Nudity opened at the Golden Bough last Saturday to a cheering first night audience. They loved the lively all singin’ all dancin’ cast and the two hours they spent waiting for its six male principals to go the full monty. “I can’t wait for the outcome!“ a middle-aged lady piped during the intermission.
Adapted by Terrence McNally from a wildly successful 1997 British film, the stage musical successfully shifts the setting from working class northern England to working class Buffalo, New York. We’re in the heyday of the Chippendales, and The Full Monty is U.K. slang for going the whole hog on anything from three-piece Montgomery Burton Fifty Shilling suits to full frontal nudity. Buffaloans probably wouldn’t know that, but let’s not quibble; one of this sextet of male stripper trainees could have had a Limey cousin in Sheffield.
The story starts with troubled but determined Jerry Lukowski suffering the slings and arrows of recent mass layoffs at the local steelworks. Jerry will lose half custody of his adored 12-year-old son Nathan if he can’t raise a thousand quick. Played with engaging chutzpa, charm and energy by John Farmanesh-Bocca, Jerry comes up with a new wrinkle on the familiar Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” solution to financial challenges. He and a handful of his other sacked steel workers will bare it all in front of a female audience currently spending spare time and big bucks watching professional strippers he regards as effete and effeminate.
The rest of the evening is devoted to the ups and downs, bumps and grinds, of auditioning, choreographing and whipping into shape six locals with differing body types (“Don’t stand sideways!”) to become a cool and coordinated chorus of Full Monty strippers.
First in line is Jerry’s close friend Dave Bukatinski who is hard to persuade to come out from behind a formidable belly to become a founder member of an exotic dance team to be billed as Cold Steel. A reluctant recruit, Dave tries everything from jogging to Saran Wrap but nothing will diminish the belly. Steve Poletti catches both the strong will and the comic pathos of the character. The warm, winning and flexible James “Pete” Russell reprises his role in PacRep’s earlier production of the piece as another applicant, Noah “Horse” Simmons. His dancing and singing of “Big Black Man” won and deserved bravos from the fans out front.
Two other members of the team are John G. Bridges, wistful and winning as a plump and lonely mama’s boy named Malcom MacGregor, and Mikey Perdue as an eager-beaver beanpole named Ethan Girard, who is signed up despite a lack of dancing expertise (he keeps injuring himself trying to duplicate Donald O’Conner in Singin’ in the Rain) but because he has other more natural endowments.
Michael Jacobs brings sensitivity and dignity to Harold Nichols, a middle-management steelworks executive who’s too scared of losing his wife to tell her he’s been unemployed for months. His up-tight anxiety gradually crumples as his newly acquired ballroom dancing skills turn him into Cold Steel’s focused but frequently frustrated choreographer.
The struggle to choreograph and rehearse a lumbering inexperienced corps de ballet into opening night shape is pretty funny, helped along by the piano vamping of a tobacco-stained retired show-biz harridan named Jeanette, acted with hilarious gusto by the delightful Donna Federico.
The show’s music and lyrics of David Yazbek don’t break any molds or smash any stereotypes but they fit in well enough. PacRep has clearly dealt with an unwelcome reputation for faulty sound mixes. Don Dally and four other band members come across just right. Act One is largely Minsky’s Burlesque style percussion work, with lots of sizzle and snap from the snares punctuated by regular big booms from the bass drum. I welcomed some later numbers that are more reflective and character driven, as McNally’s script begins to explore how the proposed Full Monty event affects some of the participants’ emotional hangups at home.
There’s a skillfully wrought quartet which links two married couples in two separate bedrooms and two contrasting marital conflicts in a counterpoint of two attitudes wrapped up in a single song called “You Rule My Life,” sung by Dave to wife Georgie (the appealing April Diaz) and Harold to wife Vicki (the dynamic Lydia Lyons).
But the main thrust of the action is always the stripshow-ending so eagerly anticipated by the lady in the intermission. McNally uses comedy and pathos to ease possible suspicions that the evening is actually going to turn either very ultra raunchy or overtly titillating. Some of the anatomical references are quite explicit. But when push comes to shove in the final moments…
Well, go see for yourself if it sounds like your Bud Lite or pint of Guinness.