The Full Monty
You know the story. Six out-of-shape, unemployed steelworkers come up with a get-rich-quick scheme: becoming male strippers for a one-night-only bare-it-all show. In the process of setting themselves up for a night of humiliation, they somehow manage to regain a measure of self-esteem. It was a charming little British movie, now it's big brash American musical.
The first act of the show is taken up by introducing our unlikely exotic dancers. Book writer Terrence McNally and composer/lyricist David Yazbek have paced this act beautifully, giving us an opportunity to get to know each of the six men who will soon be showing us a little too much skin. Dave has such a low self-image he hasn't touched his wife in months. Malcolm still lives at home and has no friends. Harold hasn't yet told his spendthrift wife he's been laid off. Ethan can't dance or sing, but brings an impressive package to the party. Horse is an older black man who sure can dance, as long as his bum hip isn't acting up. And at the center of this unusual support group is Jerry, a basically good guy straddling the fence of loserdom who risks losing visitation with his son because he's behind in child support payments, but refuses to take a job he considers beneath him.
Most of the characters are little more than one-line descriptions, and great acting isn't called for. Indeed, the show is largely cast-proof; McNally and Yazbek have written material that is so effective, the company just has to read their lines with something resembling timing, and sing in the general vicinity of on-key, and the script does the rest. Take "Big Ass Rock," a tender friendship song that you might hear Kermit the Frog sing, which happens to have lyrics centering around the different ways a really good friend will help you commit suicide. It's in outrageously bad taste, but damn if it isn't hilarious, and (believe it or not) touching.
The cast at the Ahmanson generally lets the script do its job, although sometimes they overplay it. A few characters, particularly the always tense Harold (Robert Westenberg), and Dave's unloved wife (Jennifer Naimo), are overacted to the point of incredibility, and director Jack O'Brien has his cast members fall down out of exhaustion or incompetence too frequently. But when it really counts, and the company has to sell a big number or scene, it gets sold. Standouts in that department are Cleavant Derricks, who accompanies the outrageous lyrics of Horse's audition number with enthusiastic dance moves, and Carol Woods as the straight-talking rehearsal pianist who nails each and every punchline (and even a few punch-reactions).
The choreography by Jerry Mitchell is perfectly suited; a sequence where the guys learn to move together by repeating basketball drills is inventive, yet easily believable. John Arnone's sets for this touring production effectively evoke the locations while still maintaining the not-quite-serious tone of the show, although the decor in Harold's supposedly well-furnished living room is somewhat lacking. (A jar of face cream is sitting alone on a window ledge for no logical reason, other than that it is needed in the scene.)
The second act of The Full Monty is less of a light-hearted romp than the first. As problems plague the boys, both personally and in their attempts to get their act together, the score gets more ballad-heavy and the laughs are less frequent. But there's a reason for this; the more that the guys have to overcome, the more the audience cheers them on in their final number. Crude but not filthy, touching but not sappy, The Full Monty is some good, dirty, fun. Bring your mother.
Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director/Producer; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Albert Nocciolino, in association with Fox Searchlight Picture, Lindsay Law and Thomas Hall present The Full Monty. Book by Terrence McNally; Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek. Scenic Design John Arnone; Costume Design Robert Morgan; Lighting Design Howell Binkley; Sound Design Tom Clark & Nevin Steinberg; Orchestrations by Harold Wheeler; Dance Music Arrangements by Zane Mark; Conductor Ben Whiteley; Cating by Liz Woodman Casting, C.S.A.; Production Supervisor Gene O'Donovan; Production Stage Manager Kimberly Fisk; Tour Press & Marketing TMG - The Marketing Group; General Management The Charlotte Wilcox Company; Music Direction/Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Ted Sperling; Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell; Directed by Jack O'Brien.
The Full Monty plays at the Ahmanson Theatre through June 8, 2002. For tickets and information, check www.taperahmanson.com.