Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Full Monty
Sadly, the lawsuit carries on and TTC had to find yet another performing space, which is how they ultimately landed at Beltane Ranch. Despite the ranch being in the same general area as the Winery Ruins, the extra pressure, tighter deadlines, and increased costs seem to have had a limiting effect on the normally high quality of their productions. The only acceptable siting for their stage means the audience is staring almost directly into the sun for the first half-hour or so of the show. Moreover, local rules mean the stage could be no higher than 30 inches, and with the seating being un-raked, this causes some significant line-of-sight issues, especially for patrons seated in the back rows.
The choice of The Full Monty always seemed a bit of an odd one for me for TTC. Based on the 1997 movie of the same name, the musical premiered on Broadway in 2000, with a book by Terrence McNally (which relocated the action from England to Buffalo, New York) and music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Overall, it seemed too dark, too profane, and too odd to match the "Best Night Ever" credo Transcendence has always strived to meet.
Though the story is a bit far-fetched (there's a night club in Buffalo with a capacity of 1000? And women will fork over $50 to see out-of-shape amateurs strip?), the score has some lovely ballads and terrific upbeat numbers. It tells the story of a divorced father, Jerry Lukowski (Michael Burrell), who is so far behind on his child support that he risks losing joint custody of his son, whom he adores.
After seeing his ex–and several hundred other Buffalo women–reveling in a performance by the Chippendales, represented here by a single performer, Buddy "Keno" Walsh (Tom Berklund, the only cast member with a suitably Chippendales-ish physique), Jerry hits on the bright idea to put on his own strip show, with a cast of his former co-workers and friends, all of whom became unemployed after the closing of a local factory. To encourage the local ladies to attend, Jerry–backed into a corner–decides his show will go "the full monty," forswearing the G-strings and stripping until they are completely nude–something the Chippendales don't do.
For the first half of the performance I attended (this past Saturday night, the second show of the run), there was clearly an issue with the monitors the cast wear to hear themselves sing, because the lovely, edgy harmonies Yazbek wrote often sounded muddy and discordant. Solo singers also seemed to have trouble with pitchiness. But that all went away after intermission, because suddenly the off-notes disappeared into the night air and we got to hear a cast that sounded significantly more talented. It was almost as if a different group of performers had stepped in.
Justin Anthony Long, who plays Malcolm, a dweeby security guard at the shuttered plant, shows off his gentle tenor in "You Walk With Me." As Jeannette, the crusty showbiz vet who is the group's accompanist, Mary Stout is appropriately brassy and profane, and gets many of the biggest laughs of the night. Lee Palmer, who plays Noah "Horse" T. Simmons, has a velvety tone that is nothing short of delightful. If only he'd been able to hear himself during his big first act number, "Big Black Man." Mary and Lee deserve a lot of credit for lifting the energy level of the show significantly.
The show is skillfully directed by Josh Walden, but they were forced to stage their action on a set (by Kristin Martino) that feels thrown together at the last minute–which it may have been. The scenic elements are cramped together and piled on top of each other in such a way that it could have been the setting for a post-apocalyptic survival drama.
Despite these problems, the folks at Transcendence Theatre Company still know how to put on a show. Their logistics (ticketing, parking, crowd management) are still top-notch. And though this may not have been quite the "best night ever," it's still a pretty good time.
The Full Monty runs through August 20, 2023, at Beltane Ranch, 11775 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen CA. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Ticket range from $45-$180. "Gold Level" tickets includes VIP parking, two glasses of wine and admission to the pre-show lounge. For tickets and information, please visit www.TranscendenceTheatre.org.