THE SCHLONG AND SHORT OF IT
The great local critic Wenzel Jones, writing about the play “Naked Boys Singing,” (another play in which men happily doffed their clothes to showcase their Full Monties) drolly noted that “for best results” the show “should be seen on a warm night.” It is tough to avoid making a similar statement in regards to Richard Israel’s pleasant, if unexceptional production of the Broadway tuner, which is, in turn, based on the 1997 British movie about a group of burly men’s men shedding their clothes for fun and profit.
In the pre-Mister Mike era that has since marked the advent of the Golden Era of the Go Go Boy, The Full Monty represents an act of male empowerment and resourcefulness. In the current post-Bain Capital environment, it now also suggests a viable response to taking control of one’s economic plight as well. After all, if you can make $50,000 a night swinging your dingus, who would be foolish enough to work as a security guard at the mall?
Director Richard Israel has the innovative notion of crafting an intimate, small stage production of David Yazbek and Terrence McNally’s musical – with mixed results. Although it is certainly a pleasure to be up-close-and-personal in certain moments, the show as a whole appears to be missing something. In a Broadway musical that has been scenically trimmed and shoehorned into a comparatively tiny 99-seat stage, this is nothing too unusual – and, yet, the diminution of the show brings about not a sense of more intimacy, but a lack of sparkle and showmanship.
Adapted from the 1997 British movie, the Broadway musical changes the film’s setting from Sheffield, England, to Buffalo, New York (someone’s idea of a parallel industrial city, I suppose). As in the film version, the story centers on a group of unemployed former factory workers who are struggling with the lack of self-esteem that comes with being hopelessly out of work. The men’s grumpiness has had an inevitable effect on their overall masculinity as well, which certainly disgusts the womenfolk in their lives. One night, when a Chippendales male dancer (Todd Stroik) comes to town, the women go berserk with lust – and the men are left to wonder what has happened to their lives.
Ruggedly handsome mill worker Jerry (Will Collyer) is in danger of losing custody of his beloved son if he doesn’t come up with the child support payments to his brittle wife Pam (Shannon Warne), but he has too much pride to go after the detestable McJobs that are available at the mall. However, after a run in with the Chippendale dancer, Jerry comes up with an idea to make the cash quick – and he organizes a rag tag band of erstwhile male strippers to make some ready cash and to bring back hope to the menfolk of Buffalo.
The group of maladroit hoofers include plump shlub Dave (Ryan O’Connor), elderly Harold (Chip Phillips), depressed Horse (Harrison White), mousy Malcolm (Morgan Reynolds), and clumsy-but-well endowed Ethan (Justin Michael Wilcox). Under the tutelage of an elderly, but acid-tongued pianist (Jan Sheldrick), it is not long before the men are drilled into line and have become a mean, lean stripping machine – and they present their tour de force strip-off to an audience of screaming ladies who quickly restore to the boys their dormant masculinity.
Israel constructs a production that’s the veritable definition of workmanlike: It’s as though he just picked up the script and tossed it to the actors to perform. Part of the problem is the sputtering pacing: Even though the play’s premise is partially about men dealing with depression, the basic-level line readings are plodding – a problem that’s exacerbated by Sheiva Khalily’s indifferent-looking, metal frame-lined set design. There’s no vivacity or excitement – not in the audition scenes, with their heavy-handed humor which wears thin quickly; nor in the perfunctory rehearsal scenes, with their lackluster male bonding and tepidly involving dancing. One of the issues is the source material itself: With the exception of the finale, one is hard pressed to recall any of the show’s songs, and the dialogue represents Terrence McNally in the act of dialing in his repartée.
Performances rarely nudge below the surface level of stereotype. Although Colyer boasts a nicely three-dimensional turn, the other members of the ensemble are little more than broad-stroke physical types; we never warm to them. Ironically, for a play about men putting on a strip show, the best acting and singing work is offered by the show’s females, including “It’s a Woman’s World,” a jolly, sassily ribald production number taking place at a Chippendale show.
Mind you, the ultimate raison d’etre for the entire show is the final production number “Let It Go,” the anthemic song in which the men doff their clothes to caparison themselves in manliness and high regard; it is a tightly choreographed effort, with crisp movement and a saucy flirtiness, including an unexpected flash of light that occurs just at the Full Monty Moment. It’s also the show’s only truly evocatively theatrical moment – the rest of it seems kind of like a heavy grind to that climax.
photos by Richard Hellstern
The Full Monty
presented by and at the Third Street Theater
scheduled to end on November 11, 2012
for tickets, call (888) 718-4253 or visit Showclix