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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The Full Monty
and Elaine Stritch on Stage at Paper Mill

The Full Monty
Milton Craig Nealy, Michael Rupert, Jason Babinsky, Elaine Stritch, Joe Coots, Wayne Wilcox and Allen E. Read
Photo by Kevin Sprague
The Full Monty  took Broadway by storm in the fall of 2000 with its sharply hilarious, poignant and most adult book by Terrence McNally and its bright up-beat jazz tinged score by David Yazbek.  Deservedly nominated for 10 Tony Awards, Monty failed to win any as it was steamrolled by that season's juggernaut, The Producers.  Thus, despite a quite respectable and successful main stem run of 770 performances, The Full Monty did not achieve its fair share of fame and recognition.  However, thanks to a Broadway-quality production featuring, among its mostly first rate cast, the iconic Elaine Stritch in the scene-stealing role of the rehearsal pianist Jeanette, Paper Mill audiences now have the golden opportunity to see for themselves just how fine and special The Full Monty is.

The musical is based on the 1997 British film comedy of the same name.  Seamlessly shifting the setting from Sheffield, England to Buffalo, New York, bookwriter McNally has hewn very closely to the plot and motivations of the original screenplay.  Buddies Jerry and Dave have been laid off at the steel mill.  The divorced Jerry is in danger of losing visiting rights with his son Nathan because he is unable to make child support payments.  Dave is so traumatized at being out of work that he is unable to perform sexually with his wife Georgie.  Inspired by the successful one-night local appearance of Chippendale's style dancers, Jerry and Dave decide to organize and perform a similar show.  They recruit four additional locals to join them, and name their little troupe "Hot Metal."  In order to perk up their ticket sales, Jerry announces that the sextet will outdo Chippendale's by "doing the full monty," that is stripping totally nude.  Will they actually ... well, that is the question?

The Full Monty
Cast of The Full Monty
Photo by Jerry Dalia
Wayne Wilcox is an intense and believable Jerry.  His singing is adequate, albeit a bit thin and shaky at times.  However, his dour interpretation fails to deliver the energy and drive which power musicals, and would account for Jerry's creating his pseudo-Chippendale's show.  Kelly Sullivan firmly establishes Jerry's ex-wife Pam as being energetic and able as well as coldly self-centered.  Sullivan subtly conveys the hypocrisy of her repeated claim that she does not want to keep Jerry out of the life of their son Nathan.  As Nathan, Alex Maizus (alternating with Luke Marcus Rosen) is both sweet and sassy, adding much to the texture of the father-son relationship.  At the opening, Maizus took a hard fall while exiting during the first act, prompting Wilcox to come up with a sharp ad-lib to the effect that Nathan was clearly his screwed-up father's son.

Joe Coots has toured nationally as Dave.  The role is a perfect fit for Coots, who captures the comic pathos of this overweight lightweight.  Jenn Colella as Dave's wife Georgie combines brassiness with femininity, to make her Georgie an unusually appealing stage presence.  Michael Rupert as Harold, the snobby former mill executive who is recruited to teach dance to and perform with the others, unbends neatly and lightly, never overplaying his comic role.  Michele Ragusa as his misunderstood wife Vicki is a triple-threat dynamo.  Her comedic acting, singing and dancing are superb. This is her third outstanding Paper Mill performance (her Amalia Balash in She Loves Me was particularly dazzling), and she surely has the goods to become a major name in musical theatre.

As "Horse," another of the recruited "dancers," the surefire Milton Craig Nealy brings down the house with the show-stopping "Big, Black Man."  Rounding out the strip act are Allen E. Read as the suicidal, mother-dominated Malcolm and Jason Babinsky as the well-endowed Ethan.  Both are tentative and lacking in presence.  The same can be said for their performance of the beautiful, usually heart wrenching, ballad, "You Walk With Me."  Jacqueline Colmer is brassy fun as Jerry's hot and cold girlfriend Estelle.  The outstanding Xander Chauncey is Keno, the touring stripper who opens the show with some unrestrained bumps and grinds.  Chauncey is more than a dancer-stripper here, as he, along with some fine help from Terrence McNally, makes Keno a most dimensional and delightful human being.  This is not to say that Chauncey is anything less than a hot and terrific dancer-stripper.  Let's hope that Chauncey isn't asked to tone it down post opening night.

Finally, there is the sheer joy that every theater buff will find in the hilarious, totally delightful turn of the wonderful Elaine Stitch in the role of rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister.  Stritch repeatedly shuffles to center stage to deliver, with perfect comic timing and inflection, outrageously funny lines which sound as if they had been written specifically for her.  She leads off the second act with a rollicking rendition of "Jeanette's Showbiz Number."  As the show-stopping applause continues to crescendo at its conclusion, Stritch again comes downstage for a reprise of the tune's final chorus.  Rather than merely serving to sate the audience, this reprise sends the audience into an even higher paroxysm of joy.  This is a slice of musical comedy heaven which fits deliciously into the rich quilt of The Full Monty.

It appears that the Stritch reprise is a terrific addition that director Mark Hoebee has appended to his solid new realization of the Broadway hit which began life under the direction of Jack O'Brien at San Diego's Old Globe.  The high point of the excellent choreography by Denis Jones is the first act closer, "Michael Jordan's Ball," in which the members of the newly formed sextet develop their coordination by integrating their basketball movements into the dance.  The scenery is modeled after the original design of John Arnone and the costumes are after the original design of Robert Morgan.

Terrence McNally's exceptional book could well stand on its own as a play.  However, that fact does not diminish the importance of David Yazbek's jazz-inflected, wide-ranging score which begins with a lively short overture strongly influenced by Cy Coleman's sensational exit music for City of Angels.  Yazbek's lyrics are the funniest that have been heard on Broadway at least since those of David Zippel for that same show.  Even Yazbek's music has any number of witty touches, such as the arrangement for "Man" which incorporates notes from the famed, long ago "Marlboro Man" jingle.

Since assuming the position of artist director at Paper Mill, Mark Hoebee has concentrated on family-friendly productions as he and Executive Director Mark W. Jones dexterously go about the task of restoring Paper Mill's financial health.  The importance of the large number of individual ticket sales for such productions to New Jersey families cannot be minimized.  However, with The Full Monty, Paper Mill is presenting the most provocative and risqué adult musical in its illustrious history.  So, leave the pre-pubescent youngsters at home.  If adult theatre goers do not grab up tickets for Monty, it is unlikely that the future will bring 21st century, cutting-edge musicals to New Jersey's premiere musical stage.  In any event, adult fans of quality musical theatre should grab this opportunity to breathe the exhilarating fresh air of Paper Mill's The Full Monty.

The Full Monty continues performances through July 12, 2009 (Evenings: Tuesday June 30, Wednesdays, Thursdays & Sundays 7:30 p.m.; Fridays & Saturdays 8 p.m. / Matinees: Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays 2 p.m. – No perf. July 4) at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.

The Full Monty Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek; Book by Terrence McNally; Directed by Mark Hoebee

Cast
Georgie Bukatinsky………………………Jenn Colella
Buddy "Keno" Walsh………………..Xander Chauncey
Reg Willoughby/Repo Man…………..Rob Richardson
Marty/ Tony Giordan………………….Brian Ray Norris
Jerry Lukowski……………………………Wayne Wilcox
Dave Butatinsky……………………………….Joe Coots
Malcolm MacGregor……………………..Allen E. Read
Ethan Girard……………………………Jason Babinsky
Nathan Lukowski..Alex Maizus, Luke Marcus Rosen
Susan Hershey………………………………Holly Davis
Joanie Lish………………………..Rheaume Crenshaw
Estelle Genovese………………….Jacqueline Colmer
Pam Lukowski…………………………….Kelly Sullivan
Teddy Slaughter………………………...Timothy Smith
Molly MacGregor……………………….Susan J. Jacks
Dance Instructor/Minister…………………Mark Fisher
Harold Nichols…………………………..Michael Rupert
Vicki Nichols…………………………….Michele Ragusa
Jeanette Burmeister……………………..Elaine Stritch
Noah "Horse" T. Simmons………..Milton Craig Nealy
Repo Man/ Sergeant………...Jerome Lucas Harrman


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- Bob Rendell



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