Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Full Monty
Much like Sister Act, which Albuquerque Little Theatre did a couple months ago, the movie soundtrack of The Full Monty was full of pop hits that almost everyone knows. But in the Broadway version of both of these shows, none of those hit songs are used. The musical's score has completely new music and lyrics by David Yazbek. I say this a lot about modern musicals, but it holds true here too, that the lyrics are better than the music. Terrence McNally rewrote the script, bringing the story to America by setting it in the down-on-its-luck city of Buffalo, New York.
Jerry Lukowski (played by Matthew Campbell) is an unemployed steel worker who can't find another job and can't come up with the child support he owes for his son. By chance, there's a Chippendales show going on in Buffalo, and when Jerry finds out how much money women are willing to shell out to see guys strip, he hits on the idea of getting a group of Buffalonians together to put on a local version of the show. Easier said than done, because nobody he knows is even close to being in Chippendale shape, they can't dance, and their friends and wives might be in the audience.
The exposition of the plot takes a little too long and the first few songs are forgettable, but the show kicks into high gear with the audition scene. First, Thane Kenny does a hilariously uncoordinated striptease. Then Hasani Olujimi does an incredible dance to a double entendre-loaded song called, if you can believe it, "Big Black Man." From there on, the show's energy never flags. If you've seen the movie, you know how it ends. If you haven't, I don't want to reveal too much. The characters do that themselves.
In a way, the star of this production is the set design. McNally wrote a script that is more suitable for cinema than stage. There are a lot of short scenes, a few minutes long, in places like bedrooms, living rooms and bathrooms, as well as the nightclub and union hall and city streets. The way Glenn Pepe devised the set and the lighting to handle this, with scene changes never more than a few seconds long, is really astounding. Also top notch is the work done by Joe Moncada and Sharon Welz on costumes, Thane Kenny on props, stage manager Tobanna Barker, and the six stagehands who keep the whole thing flowing like the Niagara River. Albuquerque Little Theatre has often had trouble with amplified sound, but except for a few glitches at the beginning of the performance I saw, the sound for this show, by Lando Ruiz and Alex Semeraro, worked out just fine.
Henry Avery, the director, not only assembled a good crew but a good cast as well. They all work hard, and in one number about playing basketball like Michael Jordan, I got exhausted just watching the six leads run (literally) through the choreography devised for them by Peter Bennett. There's a cast of twenty, and everyone supports each other nicely. Matthew Campbell is energetic all the way through, and sympathetic when he needs to be, in the song "Breeze Off the River." Brandon Price McDaniel is poignant as the overweight and depressed Dave Bukatinsky, Jerry's best buddy. As Ethan, Nicholas Laemmer is likely to end up with a broken back by the end of the run, he does so many attempts at the Donald O'Connor running-up-the-wall bit from Singing in the Rain. Hasani Olujimi is a delight as Horse, and John Shelton is appropriately stiff and strict as Harold, the guys' ex-boss who is reduced to appearing naked because he's broke too. The day I saw the show, Michael Weppler stepped in for Austin Embree as one of the members of the group, and did a fine job on short notice.
Among the supporting cast, a few standouts are Augustus Roe as Jerry's young son, Teresa Jones as Harold's spendthrift wife Vicki, and the hilarious Stephanie Larragoite as the rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister. I always feel guilty singling out performers, because a show like this one is really a communal effort, and good work is done by all.
What keeps the musical version of The Full Monty from being an even more popular show than it is is the lack of catchy songs, but nevertheless it's a crowd-pleaser. I had a good time, and I'm sure that everyone else in the audience did too. It's a little racy at times, but that's what we're here for. Anyone but a total prude should enjoy this show.
The Full Monty, through June 17, 2018, at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW (just south of Central near Rio Grande), Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Extra performances Saturday June 2 at 2:00 and Thursday June 7 at 7:30. Tickets $15 to $25. For tickets and information, visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 505-242-4750.