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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Village Theatre Lets It Go with The Full Monty

Also see David's reviews of The Lady With All the Answers and A Doctor In Spite of Himself

The Full Monty
Ellen McLain and the Full Monty Men
Can it really be a decade since Terrence McNally and David Yazbeck's yankee-fied musical of the popular Brit film musical The Full Monty ran two crowd-pleasing seasons on the Great White Way? Has suburban East-side King county grown up enough to accept the rather risqué show at the Village Theatre, where other adult themed musicals (La Cage and Wedding Banquet come to mind) had a few detractors and walk-outs not all that long ago? Apparently, if the rousing opening weekend, very mixed crowd in Issaquah is typical of the exuberant response the show will receive in its six-week run. Broadway director/choreographer Jerry Dixon (who helmed a really popular and enjoyable Show Boat at Village Theatre two seasons back) follows the shows Broadway blueprint fairly faithfully, and with exuberant musical direction by Tim Symons and a solid, well-chosen cast on hand, it is an enjoyable, non-traditional season opener for the company.

Trading in Sheffield, England, for Buffalo, New York, McNally's book is largely faithful to the film, more so perhaps than the same playwright's more freewheeling adaptations of such works as Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime or Catch Me If You Can. At heart, it's the tale of hard-luck, unemployed, average Joe steelworkers who decide to "take it all off" ala Chippendale's to earn a few bucks and keep their respective families afloat. If anything, the economic depression we are in makes the show resound even more with today's audiences, though the book takes awhile to work up a head of steam. There's really no more question that the guys are gonna put on a show in the strip joint than there was when Mickey and Judy planned to put on a show in a barn, but it's fun and heart-tugging watching them get there.

In the principal role of divorce dad Jerry Lukowski, Dane Stokinger has rough-hewn good looks, an amiable swagger, and a great voice. His odd couple, chubby best pal Dave Bukatinsky is warmly brought to ambling life by Kevin High. Michael Nicholas is endearing as can be as mama's boy Malcolm MacGregor, and Troy Wageman gives a superb account of himself as wacky Ethan Girard, whose idolatry of Julie Andrews as Maria in The Sound of Music is topped by his determination to equal Donald O'Connor's big "Make 'Em Laugh" stunt from Singin' in the Rain. Bob DeDea nails the role of uptight ex-mill foreman Harold Nichols who is hiding his unemployment from his sweetly materialistic spouse, and Terrence Kelley believably ages up to play the Noah "Horse" T. Simmons, the "Big Black Man" who might be the best dancer among the guys if not for his arthritis. The men have most of the best songs in David Yazbek's jazz/rock influenced score, including Jerry's plaintive "There's a Breeze Off the River," Jerry and Dave's "Man," Malcolm and Ethan's moving "You Walk With Me," Dave and Harold's tender "You Rule My World," and the show-topping comedy number "Big Ass-Rock" in which Jerry and Dave comically mock and subdue a suicidal Ethan.

McNally stumbled a bit in fleshing out the admittedly sketchy female characters in the show, so praise director Dixon's casting of several high-powered ladies to pick up the script's slack. Kathy Henson Gehrig makes a welcome and overdue return to local musical theatre as Dave's sexually deprived wife Georgie, and makes the most of her numbers "It's A Woman's World" and the reprise of "You Rule My World" which reveals just how much her always vocally rich voice has matured in her absence from our stages. Bubbly belter Rebecca Spencer, as Harold's wife Vicki, takes the merely fair "Life With Harold" and justifies its presence, while Ashley FitzSimmons' solid work as Jerry's still supportive ex-wife Pam makes you wish the one song Yazbek wrote for her character hadn't been excised pre-Broadway. But ... there is one great woman's role in The Full Monty and, cast brilliantly against type, the always marvelous Ellen McClain cements her reputation with a hilarious turn as Jeanette, the wisecracking piano player who just shows up and helps the guys get the prize. In McClain's hands, the one really sure-fire woman's solo in the show, "Jeanette's Showbiz Number," is truly an incendiary delight.

Anchoring key supporting roles are charming young actor Jack Holmes, who is totally natural and unforced as Jack's loving son Nathan; Christian Duhamel as Pam's steady new husband Teddy; and Dan Connor as pro-stripper Buddy "Keno" Walsh; as well as an ensemble so talented as to be considered overqualified for their tasks.

Scenic designer Steven Capone captures an economically stricken industrial town with ease, complemented by Tom Sturge's mood-enhancing lighting design (yes, the "strip" lights work well) and Cynthia Savage's real people costumes. After a slow first few scenes, Dixon sees to it that the show never flags again, and his big ensemble pieces "Michael Jordan's Ball", "The Goods" and the climactic "Let It Go" are snazzy without being self-consciously dancy.

The Full Monty at Village succeeds as a character-driven piece with lots of heart and humor, though I'd be less than human to deny an appreciation of the eye candy amply on display as well. Inhibited? Let it go, and just go, see it.

The Full Monty plays at Village Theatre's Issaquah location through October 24th and then will move to their Everett location running October 29th through November 21st. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh, Property of Village Theatre

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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