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St. Louis

The Full Monty

The Full Monty, which opened this week at Stages St. Louis, is not your father's or your mother's musical comedy. The music is energetic but not particularly hummable, the characters are a motley bunch even in the age of Rent and Avenue Q, and the plot stretches credibility to the absolute limit. Yet, like the movie upon which McNally bases the book, the show, even with all of its potty-mouth jokes about male anatomy, has an underlying sweetness, almost a naivete, that can charm an audience comprised heavily of blue-haired ladies bussed in from the Senior Center.

In both the movie and the musical, the issue is how a bunch of laid-off factory workers can re-establish their masculine pride. The answer, in absolute defiance of logic, is to organize themselves as a team of male strippers, on the order of the Chippendales, and put on a show. In Mr. McNally's version, transported from England to Buffalo, New York, the gently ironic British take on the absurdity of all this is replaced by a kind of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney gee-whiz "let's find a barn and put on a show" earnestness that is appealing but definitely on the sentimental side. There's plenty of sentiment, too, in the creation and repair of relationships, whether between father and son, husband and wife, or two lonely gay guys.

Given the name of the show and the nature of the publicity photos, there's no real tension as to whether the boys will bring it off. The complications in the process are predictable, from the ungainly early efforts at dancing to the guy who almost can't overcome his body-image problem, to the leader tormented by doubts who almost finks out at the last minute. Also predictably, these complications provide some good opportunities for singing and dancing. The most appealing number, musically, is a solo by Jerry, the leader, called "Breeze Off the River"; the cleverest is "Big-ass Rock," a trio about suicide; and the most energetic, aside from the finale, is a song-and-break-dance turn called "Big Black Man."

The folks at Stages St. Louis can be counted on to find the right actors, singers and dancers for a show and to back them up with technical work on the highest professional level. Michael Halling, with an impressive list of New York credits, is absolutely pitch-perfect as Jerry, whether trying to get the others fired up about his loopy idea or coping with his ex-wife's threats to take away his son. Nicholas Kohn, also making his Stages debut, is charming as Jerry's hefty sidekick, Dave. Roger Rosen, Keith Tyrone, Matthew Skrincosky and Marc Kessler are outstanding in supporting roles. There are some sharp performances by the women in the cast as well, most notably by the incredibly versatile Zoe Vonder Haar as a veteran show-biz piano player and by Jenna Coker as a wife struggling to understand what her man is going through.

Technically, the show is immaculate, from Michael Hamilton's sure-handed direction to Lou Bird's subtly brilliant costumes to Mark Halpin's imaginative set.

It takes a greater-than-usual willingness to suspend disbelief to really get in the groove of this show, but when the audience, following the urging of the strippers in the finale, is able to "Let It Go," they can find themselves having a heck of a good time watching The Full Monty . Stages St. Louis' production of the show runs through August 19 at the Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood. For ticket information, call 314-821-2407 or visit their web site at www.stagesstlouis.org.


-- Robert Boyd

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