Also see Scott's review of Grey Gardens
La Comedia Dinner Theatre, southwest Ohio's biggest and best dinner theater, typically presents mountings of safe shows, either classics or family fare, which have wide audience appeal. Once a year, however, they take a risk on a show with more adult content, so they've brought The Full Monty to their stage for 2008. The youthful cast turns in praiseworthy performances in an overall satisfying production of this worthwhile show.
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 was undeservedly shut out by The Producers.
The book by Terrence McNally (Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Ragtime) keeps much of what worked best in the film, adds a few new colorful characters, and presents the story in a straightforward manner. If the characters aren't fully conceived, it's because they don't need to be. The audience is shown just enough about each one to make them likeable and believable, and to care about their plight. In addition, the show has many strong comedic moments, as well as some touching heartfelt ones.
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 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. At La Comedia, the cast is generally too young for the characters they're playing, but that doesn't detract greatly from the overall experience. As Jerry, the leader of the group, Keith Collins sings confidently and provides a solid foundation for the rest of the cast. Providing fine comic relief are Greg Kalafatas (big buddy Dave), D.J. Oliver (Horse) and Leigh Cambre (Donald O'Connor wannabe Ethan). Chris Beiser displays winningly detailed acting and capable singing as uptight Harold, and John Daniel Forslund deserves kudos for excellent vocals (probably the best of the cast) and physical comedy as momma's boy Malcolm.
Allyson Pace (Georgie), Cheryl Hoffmann (Pam) and Sarah Amandes (Vicki) infuse extra energy into the show as the primary women in the men's lives, and Janet Brucken wins lots of laughs with her one-liners and act two opening showstopper as Jeanette.
Director Michael Horsley captures the blue collar sensibility of the piece and wisely emphasizes the comic hilarity of the script and score. The choreography by Eric Sean Fogel is reminiscent of the original Broadway work by Jerry Mitchell without copying it.
The simplistic scenic design by Matthew J. Evans is sufficient and appropriate, and thankfully avoids the cartoonish set elements often associated with this show. Geoffrey D. Fishburn's lighting complements the sets with a number of window effects and is aptly flashy for the strip scenes. The authentic and fun costumes are by Jody Williams and Darla Buckland.
The Full Monty has been seen in the Cincinnati/ Dayton area a number of times now, but is a welcome addition for La Comedia. It's a well-constructed piece of modern musical theater, and again proves to be a fun and entertaining time for audiences here. The Full Monty continues at La Comedia through October 26, 2008. Tickets can be ordered by visiting www.lacomedia.com or calling 1-800-677-9505.