The Full Monty began as a British film, released in 1997. The story depicts six steelworkers in Sheffield, England, who have been laid off and are desperate for money. When they see the frenzy created (and money generated) when a male strip show visits town, an idea for "easy money" is hatched. These everymen decide to put on their own strip show and make enough money in one night to solve their immediate problems. The stage musical, which debuted on September 25, 2000, after a trial run in San Diego, keeps this storyline, though resetting it in Buffalo, New York. With a book Terrence McNally and songs by David Yazbek (orchestrations by Harold Wheeler), this is a less gritty Fully Monty than the film, though it still features strong language and near-naked men.
In the tour version, Christian Anderson plays Jerry Lukowski, the man who initiates the idea of doing the strip show. Jerry is not an entirely sympathetic character. The stakes are high - he will lose joint custody of his 12-year-old son Nathan (played at the performance I saw by Aaron Nutter) if he doesn't come up with the money he owes he ex-wife - but he's not willing to take just any job to make the money. Among other things, Jerry includes Nathan in every step of the plans of the show, and uses language with his son usually reserved for times when the kids are out of the room (some of this is cleaned up in the tour version), which makes it harder to root for him, but Jerry does grow up a little by the end of the show, and the light treatment of his desperation makes him a tad easier to accept.
Anderson's stage appearance is very close to original Broadway Jerry, Patrick Wilson. Anderson does a good job with the role, though he never shows strength as a singer. Actually, the role didn't showcase Wilson's excellent voice either, so maybe it's and inherent result of the structure of the songs. Anderson moves well and projects the character's dourness and restlessness as scripted.
Besides being out of work, each of the other guys has his own personal reason for taking such a drastic step for quick money. Jerry's best friend, Dave Bukatinsky (Michael J. Todaro), is overweight and feeling inadequate with his wife, Georgie (Jennifer Naimo). It's easy to like Todaro's Dave; he starts out walking in Jerry's shadow, but by the end of the show, he has learned to respect himself.
Harold Nichols was a supervisor at the factory, but he's out of work too, and he has a wife who loves being showered with material goods. He has hidden from her the fact that he's been laid off, and the repossessors are at the door. In one of the best performances in this cast, veteran stage actor Robert Westenberg (see our interview with Westenberg) has tremendous stage presence and a beautiful voice. Playing Harold's wife Vicki, Heidi Blickenstaff also sings beautifully. She is perfectly cast for this part, perky and childish when she's being spoiled by Harold, yet believable as the truly loving wife we see once she finds out the truth. And wow, can she sing! Vicki does let loose a few times in her songs, but you wish it happened even more just to hear Blickenstaff belt.
Malcolm MacGregor (Leo Daignault) still has a job at the factory - the lone security guard - but he is suicidal. Taking a sensitive topic like suicide and making it into a funny, clever song ("Big Ass Rock") is one of the highlights of Yazbek's score. And the song is well done by Anderson, Todaro, and Daignault. Malcolm lives with is wheelchair-bound mother and is extremely lonely. He comes alive once he meets Jerry and joins in the plans for the show, and when he meets Ethan Girard (Christopher J. Hanke), his life takes on new purpose. As Malcolm, Daignault has the most beautiful song in the song, and the one that is most likely to be performed outside of the show, "You Walk With Me." A touching addition to the show in many ways, the song is wonderfully presented by Daignault.
The true star of this cast, the one actor who commands the stage when she is on it, is Carol Woods as piano accompanist Jeanette Burmeister. Woods is warm and hilarious and raises the rafters with her singing. She gives a totally new take on her character's main song, appropriately titled "Jeanette's Showbiz Number." Woods really adds a lot to this show, and it is a delight to see what she does on stage.
Supporting players are good overall, with a particular standout being Dan LoBuono as real stripper Buddy "Keno" Walsh.
Costumes, sets, lighting and sound are all credited to original Broadway designers Robert Morgan, John Arnone, and Howell Binkley. The sets are suitable and functional - they somehow seem to provide more atmosphere here than on Broadway. Costumes (everyday clothes and g-strings) work well. The lighting design is all-important in the final scene, and it achieves its purpose and is good overall.
The choreography by Jerry Mitchell, is well designed. Dancing is limited, and is more coordinated movement than all out dance. The choreography in the song "Michael Jordan's Ball" is the most innovative of the piece and is very integrated with the characters.
Though Yazbek's lyrics are sometimes clever and funny, sometimes obtuse, the rock/pop inspired music is catchy and in line with the tone of the plot.
And the final number ("Let It Go")? It's done extremely well (even some of the usually staid Pittsburgh audience seemed to be worked into a frenzy), the guys look like they're having a great time, and no one should feel cheated or offended.
The Full Monty is at Heinz Hall through January 12. For tickets and information, call 412-392-4900 or visit www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
The Full Monty
Cast: Whitney Allen, Christian Anderson, Heidi Blickenstaff, Erick Buckley, Leo Daignault, Cleavant Derricks, David Patrick Ford, Michael Halling, Christopher J. Hanke, Kimberly Harris, Dale Hensley, Christine Hudman, Dan LoBuono, Brett Murray, Jennifer Naimo, Milton Craig Nealy, Aaron Nutter, Diana Pappas, Ryan Perry, Kate Strohbehn, Michael J. Todaro, Robert Westenberg, David A. White, Paige DuBois Wolff, Carol Woods.