Also see Scott's review of Convenience
There is little doubt that theatergoers in Cincinnati have been spoiled over the past few years in regard to touring productions of musicals. The Aronoff Center has been among the first in the country to receive such tours as The Producers, Hairspray, Urinetown, and Thoroughly Modern Millie, all of which have already come and gone. Therefore, when a show that has been touring for quite a while comes to town, especially one that has already switched over to a non-Equity cast, it comes as somewhat of a shock. Regardless, the current tour of The Full Monty is a swinging good time and succeeds in entertaining, thanks to its well written material, strong direction and choreography, and some worthwhile performances.
The Full Monty began life in 1997 as a low budget film that soon gained both critical and audience popularity and even an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Like the movie, the musical adaptation follows six out-of-work steelworkers who try to become male strippers in an effort to regain their self-esteem and make some much-needed cash at the same time. Although the setting has been wisely switched from Sheffield, England to Buffalo, New York to better appeal to American audiences, the story has retained its blue-collar sensibilities and humor, and is aided by solid and well-suited songs and dialogue. The show was nominated for ten Tony Awards in 2001, but undeservedly was shut out due to the juggernaut better known as The Producers.
The book by Terrence McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime) keeps what worked best in the film, adds a few new colorful characters, and presents the story in a straightforward and easygoing fashion. If the characters aren't fully conceived, it's because they don't need to be. We know just enough about each one to make them likeable and believable, and to care about their plight. The dialogue is appropriately working class and contains its fair share of coarse language.
The score by theatrical newcomer David Yazbek boasts strong character songs for each lead and most supporting players and is written in a middle-class pop style that is likewise perfectly apt for the story. Songs such as "Big Ass Rock," "Big Black Man," and "The Goods" contain catchy tunes and hilarious lyrics, and "You Walk With Me" is a beautifully crafted ballad. The funky finale "Let It Go" is the perfect way to cap this fun show.
The Full Monty is an ensemble show and provides many opportunities for its cast members. As Jerry, the leader of the group, Jeremiah Zinger plays the likable loser with the necessary sense of urgency and shows off a confident singing voice. As big buddy Dave, Joe Coots impresses with his comedic moments, but has some difficulty with the vocal range of the role. Troy Scarborough gets all of the necessary laughs as Horse and is a crowd favorite. Steve DeBruyne displays a beautiful tenor voice as wimpy Malcolm, and Eric Thorne shines in the finale as Ethan. Rounding out the six leads as Harold is Patrick J. Cogan, who puts his fine lower register to good use and is properly stiff and prideful.
In support of these would-be strippers are many other performers. Happy McPartlin sings well as Georgie, and Ann Burnette Mathews delivers the goods as perky Vicki Nichols. Theater vet Penny Larsen makes a showstopper out of her act two opener, "Jeanette's Showbiz Number." Tyler Griffin (who shares the role with Stephen Hohendorf) is fully capable as young Nathan. There is some questionable acting in spots by the ensemble members, and the timing of the cast in general needs some fine-tuning. However, this tour recently switched casts (from union to non-union actors), so these performers may just need some additional time to get everything perfect.
The original direction by Jack O'Brien (Hairspray) has been faithfully re-created (which is the norm with non-Equity tours) here by Madeleine Loftin. O'Brien skillfully walks the fine line between suitable man-talk humor and tastelessness. Much of the material works within the piece due to O'Brien's direction more than anything else. Likewise, the dances by Jerry Mitchell have also been restaged here, this time by Denis Jones. Even if choreographer Mitchell gets more opportunities to showcase his skills in Hairspray and Never Gonna Dance than here, his work in The Fully Monty is fitting. In "Michael Jordan's Ball," he brilliantly has the clumsy men learn strip moves by emulating basketball skills, and the finale's dances are energetic and realistic. Stephen Purdy vigorously leads a talented nine-piece band in support.
The scenic design by John Arnone has an overriding industrial theme to mimic the steel mills and factories that dominate the storyline. With metal sliding panels, a mural featuring smokestacks, and some cartoon-like drops, the set isn't a pretty one, but it suits the show. Lighting is important to this show, especially in the finale, and Mark T. Simpson's work is top-flight. The costumes by Robert Morgan are realistic and fun. Unfortunately, there were problems in the execution of some lighting, sound, and set transition elements on opening night.
The Full Monty is a well-constructed piece of modern musical theater, and the rocking fun time that has been associated with this show is intact with its current touring cast and company. It will be interesting to see what some of the creative team behind this show, Yazbek, O'Brien, and Mitchell, can do with their next collaboration, a musical adaptation of another film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
The national tour of The Full Monty continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through February 1, 2004. Tickets can be ordered by calling (513) 241-7469.