Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
When the women in their lives express their newfound financial power by sharing a night out at a club featuring a tour of the Chippendales dancers, the two main characters, Jerry Lukowski (James Schott) and his best friend Dave Bukatinsky (Chris Plank), sneak into the club (it's Ladies Only night), overhear their wives (and exes, Jerry is divorced) bemoaning their men's lack of motivation, and meet one of the dancers. In true toxic male fashion Jerry refers to him as a "fairy." The dancer, Keno (Julio Chavez), is in fact gay, and after some macho bluster, Jerry attempts to punch him, but Keno is faster and it's Jerry who gets the worst of the exchange. But in addition to a bruised face (and ego), Jerry walks away from the encounter with an idea: he will put on a strip show featuring "real" men, ones like himself and Dave, who is packing more than a few extra pounds.
It's a crazy idea, but it's the only way Jerry sees to raise the money he needs to pay the back child support he owes in order to maintain visitation with his son Nathan (Christopher Apy). Over the next few weeks, Jerry and Dave assemble a group of other down on their luck men and form a motley crew of would-be strippers who call themselves "Hot Metal."
The Full Monty was a minor hit on Broadway, playing nearly two years at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. It's easy to see why, with a solid book by Terrence McNally and some terrific songs by David Yazbek. Especially good are "Big-Ass Rock" (which does not refer to rock 'n' roll), "Let It Go," (not the tune from Frozen), and "Scrap," which opens the show and establishes just how far the men's self-esteem has fallen. Add in the spectacle of less than Greek physiques strutting their stuff, and you've got yourself a wildly entertaining show. And, in this production by Bay Area Musicals, directed by Leslie Waggoner, that goodness comes shining through.
The cast is excellent, despite a few weak voices, and they clearly have a great time helping the audience have a great time as well. The set, by Artistic Director Matthew McCoy, is suitably rugged and rusty (but he saves the best, brightest effect for last), and Eric Johnson's lighting design is orders of magnitude better than his work on the company's production of Hairspray. This time, his efforts are top notch: soft and subtle during the emotional numbers (such as the lovely "Breeze Off the River") and bold and energetic during the dance numbers. The cast is nicely balanced, but performances that stand out include Adrienne Herro, whose big, brassy voice is put to great use in "Life with Harold," and Jackson Thea, who, as the severely depressed Malcolm, will touch your heart with his lovely rendition of the ballad "You Walk with Me."
If you overlook the fact that the men never really seem to shed their toxic maleness to any significant degree (though their homophobia subsides somewhat) and the horrible acoustics of the Victoria Theatre, this production of The Full Monty is an excellent reason to get yourself to the Mission and enjoy the wonderful work Bay Area Musicals has done in bringing it to the stage.
The Full Monty runs through March 15, 2020, at Bay Area Musicals, Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco CA. Shows are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $35-$85, and are available by calling 415-340-2207 or visiting www.bamsf.org.