“Can you dance? Can you sing? Well, whad’ya got?” In Keegan Theatre’s version, it’s the short balding guy who shows the folk at the audition, upstage, mind you, what God has given him. At which point, the men eye him with a mixture of awe and envy and the fast-talking accompanist Jeanette goes speechless and wipes the corners of her mouth to keep from drooling.
It’s one of those unbeatable comic moments that playwright Terrence McNally has written into his musical adaptation of the 1997 film The Full Monty. Crafted to incorporate cultural and gender stereotypes, the stage version aims for a mass appeal, and Keegan’s cast delivers the goods.
McNally chose to transpose the story of six on-the-dole Irish blokes to equally bleak, flannel-clad, out-of-work stiffs in Buffalo. The guys consider themselves “scrap”, and they’re ready just to sit around and gripe about their job prospects, at least as far as the wives are concerned. Then Jerry notices that the women seem to be doling out some serious dough to see professional male strippers’ gyrate. He gets the cockamamie idea that he and some pals will put on a one night show and reveal all, which will make their fortunes and enable Jerry to keep joint custody of his son.
The first act got off to a little rocky start, due, in part, to McNally’s script, which, frankly, is a touch predictable and uses broad strokes in defining character and situation rather than the nuanced and often heartbreaking texture of the film’s backstory. Nonetheless, the actors seemed to find their groove through the playing and pulled off an entertaining evening.
Directors Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea used their yet-to-be-renovated bare walls theatre to good advantage, giving the production an appropriately gritty warehouse background for the rehearsals and eventual performance venue of the stripper wannabes. They also incorporated the use of three upstage screens, often depicting slides of Buffalo’s gritty downtown to convey their world or, in one scene, a men’s bathroom where the women take over and knock out a rousing song, “It’s a Woman’s World.”
The screens also allow for some clever shadow work that enable the actors to play multiple characters efficiently as well as integrate shadow as a performance form.
Some scenes were played entirely in silhouette, such as when Jerry (Kurt Boehm) and buddy Dave (Matthew Dewberry), while running to get fit, come upon skinny loser Malcolm (John Loughney) attempting suicide. Malcolm and his car are in shadow behind the screen, and his gyrations and their ministrations to the character are cleverly wrought.
The song, after they pull him out and revive him to three-dimensionality, is a highlight of the show. They jokingly offer to assist Malcolm’s suicide options in “Big Ass Rock,” and affect the transformation to hope and Loughney’s loony delight in finding friends at last.
Rhea and Rhea chose their cast wisely, men whose bodies and voices are not airbrushed and technologically mixed to be anything but who they are. This grounded the work and made certain break-out songs all the more enjoyable.
Boehm anchors the play with a performance that is strong vocally and emotionally compelling. He is totally believable as a guy coming up through the ranks of working class Buffalo. Dewberry, as the chunky guy with a poor body image who is stifling his marriage, crafts a sympathetic character and, though his solo singing was a little underpowered, he fitted in some nice harmonic blends with the other men. Loughney is a marvelous singer-actor and can crank to another gear, with that metallic edge to his upper notes that suits the electronic pop score.
The other men that make up the ‘strippers six’ offer good support to the evening. Patrick Doneghy plays Horse, the black guy who joins the troupe because he convinces them (and us) he’s the guy with the moves. Without many lines, he shows us that through the chance to dance he can transform from a gimpy old man to someone who still has something special to offer. Charlie Abel is also convincing on his feet – not only as the middle class foreman who feels entitled and with more to lose than the others but the man who actually has some social dance in his background.
Michael Innocenti, a multiple-talented Keegan company member, offers his services in this show as Ethan, a guy who repeatedly runs into walls in an attempt to outdo Donald O’Connor’s famous gravity-defying dance. Here his repeated antics could be a metaphor for small theatre companies facing one challenge after another, getting knocked down but still going for it. If so, Innocenti manages the double meaning in a wincingly funny manner. His character Ethan is the one most ready not only to throw his clothes off but to jump into a much scarier love situation – a love relationship with Malcolm.
I would only like to dispute the choice of having a key intimate scene between Ethan and Allen, much like the scene between Dave and his wife, up in second-story nooks. Both scenes carry some of the emotional heart of the story but suffered by being physically sidelined and too distantly removed from the audience. I missed Innocenti and Loughney giving us some real depth in their discovery of love and sexual orientation. Likewise, Kari Ginsburg, who plays Dave’s wife Georgie is not only an affecting singer but, tears streaming, gave one of the best performances of the evening in the scene where she confronts Dave, declaring her love for her “big man.” But she was so far away!
Ginsburg’s reprise of the song “You Rule My World” with Priscilla Cuellar shows these women can really deliver the vocal goods in this pop musical. Cuellar seemed initially mismatched with middle-class hubby Harold, but she won me over, moving from extreme extroversion and material greed to standing by her man when the chips were down.
Other cast members worked well in the ensemble, including Autumn Seavey Hicks as Jerry’s ex-wife, the woman tired of waiting for him to grow up, and Max Jackson as Nate, their adolescent son, who is both torn up and worldly-wise about his parents’ squabbles. Everyone in this show, even Nate, seems to be coaxed into having a lot of fun with the men’s shenanigans.
The Full Monty
EXTENDED! Closes June 8, 2013
Keegan Theatre at
Church Street Theater
1742 Church Street, NW
2 hours, 50 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $35 – $40
Thursdays thru Sundays
Musical director Jake Null retains his small orchestra on a second floor platform behind walls, much like what we come to expect at Signature Theatre. It solves the problem of balance for the amplified musical score by David Yazbek, though I sigh when I see the ubiquitous mics seemingly permanently attached to the performers’ cheeks in such a deliciously intimate theatre. Alas, it’s the pop musical world we live in. Nonetheless, Null scores big points in keeping the rather long score propelling forward musically.
Choreographer Ashleigh King is also to be commended on the women’s numbers as well as the lead up and final men’s dances.
Just come on down to Keegan and enjoy an evening that is unapologetically a crowd pleaser. I promise you will get what you came for: Keegan delivers the” full monty!”
The Full Monty . Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek . Book by Terrence McNally . Directed by Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea . Featuring Kurt Boehm, Matt Dewberry, John Loughney, Max Jackson, Charlie Abel, Michael Innocenti, Patrick Doneghy, Chad Fornwalt, James Finley, Mike Kozemchak, Josh Sticklin, Kari Ginsburg, Autumn Seavey, Priscilla Cuellar, Rena Cherry Brown, Sherry Berg, Jennifer Richter and Farrell Parker. Musical Direction by Jake Null . Choreography by Ashleigh King . Produced by Keegan Theatre . Reviewed by Susan Galbraith.