The final musical of the 2006-2007 Mainstage Series at the University of Cincinnati – College Conservatory of Music (CCM) is the The Full Monty. Though the show proves to be entertaining, CCM’s production has a number of frustrating flaws that keep it from being one of their better musicals in recent years.
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 sweep by 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 David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) boasts strong character songs for each lead and most supporting players and is written in a middle-class pop style that is likewise 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, Colt Prattes embodies the blue-collar work ethic and desperation of the character, but he can't solidly hit the highest notes of the role's vocal range/demands with sufficient confidence. As Jerry's gang of would-be strippers, Mitchell Walker (Dave) and Danny Visconti (Malcolm) are vocally impressive, Pearce Wegner (Ethan) and Josh Breckenridge (Horse) make the most of their comedic opportunities, and Sean Montgomery (Harold) does very well in conveying a well rounded character.
Broadway vet and former Tony nominee Pamela Myers is a special non-student performer in the role of Jeanette and brings excellent professional polish and age-appropriateness to the proceedings. The other primary female roles are skillfully portrayed by Carly Stotts (Pam), Sara Sheperd (Georgie) and Jen Temen (Vicki). Jake Bridges does the best he can as a young adult in playing Jerry's 12-year old son Nathan.
Director Aubrey Berg's staging has some nice moments for sure, but there are issues as well. Many humorous lines are rushed, causing the jokes to be missed. A few of the songs are too presentational in style, with the actors performing to the audience more than between characters. He is also unable to overcome the age discrepancy of many of his performers to their characters, with the cast as a whole lacking the necessary mature tone needed for the piece. This is the primary problem with the production - the cast is unable to convincingly play characters of an age different from their own. This is a difficult skill, and it was perhaps an unwise choice for CCM to undertake such a show. While many shows contain mostly characters other than college aged, the fact that The Fully Monty is a reality-based modern show (unlike The Pajama Game, Crazy For You, or Brigadoon - several other recent CCM mainstage shows) perhaps made this discrepancy more obvious.
The well-executed choreography is credited to Patti James, but the show's two major dance pieces, "Michael Jordan's Ball" and "Let It Go," are almost exact copies of the original Broadway work by Jerry Mitchell. Andrew Smithson energetically leads fourteen talented musicians, but needs to control of the orchestra's volume during a couple of numbers as to not drown out the lyrics.
Scenic designer Brian Ruggaber provides a three-tiered unit set that ably provides all of the locales for the show and captures the feel of the steel mills and factories that dominate the storyline. With this production set in 1987, the costumes by Jessica Arthur are playful and appropriate. The lighting by Jonathan Fuchs is effective, though the important blackout at the end of the show was maybe a second too late for some audience members' tastes.
The Full Monty is a well-constructed piece of modern musical theater, and most of the audience for CCM's current production will have an enjoyable time. However, this staging has more problems than we have come to expect from this deservedly well-respected program, despite some strong performances from its cast. The musical continues at CCM from through March 4, 2007.