Based on the prestigious Academy Award nominated motion picture, The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical celebrates eternal themes such as friendship, tolerance and bravery. Just in case that is not enough of a hook, the plot revolves around male stripping.
Set in Buffalo, New York, in the late 1990s, several ordinary men were let go from their jobs at a steel mill factory, and have been unable to find suitable employment. A divorced 42-year-old screw up, Jerry Lukowski (Grant Rosen), and his heavyset best friend, Dave Bukatinsky (Michael Parrott), try to figure out a way to make fast money. Jerry comes up with the idea for the two of them to become strippers. They soon team up with a suicidal mama’s boy, Malcolm MacGregor (NVA Associate Artistic & Development Director, Justin Jorgensen), an idiotic “Singin’ in the Rain” fan, Ethan Girard (Scott Nickley), a depressed former foreman, Harold Nichols (Paul Morgavo) and an older black man who may have a big package, Noah “Horse” T. Simmons (Rovin Jay).
I had a lot of expectations going into this new production, because it has been one of my favorite shows since I was eleven. I love the unabashedly crude book from Terrence McNally, the frequently clever songs from David Yazbek and the emotional bond between Jerry and his young son, played here by the appealing Matthew Mohler. I am not ashamed to admit that I sang along to the ridiculously catchy musical number, “Big Black Man,” plenty of times after buying the Original Broadway Cast recording.
The comedy-drama still feels timely, especially early on as the main characters try to adjust to life during difficult economic times. This is an issue that still exists in the 21st century in Buffalo and other cities throughout the United States.
Manny Fernandes’ direction provides so much more than a buildup to stripping sequences. His staging feels closer to the understated tone of the original movie, as opposed to the glitzy touring version that has played at the Civic Theatre. A lot of the jokes are told in a relaxed and calm style, instead of in a broad manner. This is a big advantage for the small sized New Village Arts Theatre.
Michael Mizerany’s choreography at times is as raunchy as the audience might expect, and he displays a lot of versatility. This is evident in songs such as “Life With Harold,” which infuses ballroom dancing, and the high spirited basketball themed Act I finale, “Michael Jordan’s Ball.”
Harold Wheeler’s prerecorded orchestrations work well, especially during the scenes set in a strip club. The audio can be shamelessly catchy as well as sincerely sentimental.
The male performers are fearless comedic actors, and they infuse their roles with plenty of soul. The players can sing, although not every single actor is able to belt some of the higher notes. This seems like an intentional choice, to make viewers feel more connected to the average Joes.
Rosen does not portray Jerry as a loveable schlub who is easy to root for succeeding. Instead, he exposes all of the character’s major flaws including his reckless behavior and casual homophobia. His dramatic moments end up becoming more effective, especially towards the conclusion.
Parrott is a naturally gifted comic presence, and he has a powerful singing voice to boot. If he widens his eyes a little bit too much for easy laughs in early scenes, he becomes more grounded as Dave questions whether he should take off his clothes for money.
It is worth mentioning that there is some strong supporting work from the actresses. Melissa Fernandes and Debra Wanger give vibrant and tender performances as wives who are in deeply flawed marriages with their husbands. Their parts are tricky to play because of how the spouses dramatically change through the piece, yet the women are believable due to their rich acting.
Sean Fanning’s urban scenic design, Luke Olson’s playful lighting and Valerie Henderson’s smart costume choices contribute to making The Full Monty a potential summer smash. There is plenty to appeal to everyone, regardless of their age (over 13), gender or sexual orientation.