Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
Also see Eddie's review of Rock of Ages
The Full Monty, with a book by Terrence McNally, opens with a scene also full of male-stripping pump, swivel, and thrust; but this time the performer is a genuine Chippendale named Keno who takes off his suit and tie, tucks them in his brief case, and sends the local Buffalo women screaming for more. The fact that these gals can somehow come up with $50 to go see some skin at a time when the local steel factory has closed and most of their husbands/boyfriends are out of work sparks an idea in one out-of-work, divorced, dad's head.
Jerry Lukowski needs $700 in two weeks or he will lose the right to see his son. As he and other out-of-work-ers wait for their meager union insurance checks, they sing about how it feels to be "Scrap," bemoaning in voices emanating from their guts, "I want to understand, how I got to be a loser and I used to be a man." Jerry decides to put on a strip show of just regular, everyday guys like himself and his best bud Dave Bukatinsky, hoping to earn an easy fifty grand or so in one night. Andy Cooperfauss as Jerry and Christopher Reber as Dave strike up their own courage to "hang ten," "ride the pipeline," and "swing the bat"using these and other macho euphemisms to imagine letting it all hang out to bare while singing a rousing and athletic "Man." Both actors bring just the right character portrayals to make Jerry and Dave guys whose personal issues and self-doubts we can see and feel and whose eventual turning points are moments we readily celebrate with them.
The two pals begin to build their dance line by first rescuing Malcolm, whom they find trying to commit suicide in a smoking car (a busted up yellow VW Bug, just one of many wonderful props designed by Eric Olson and Adria Olson). They turn tragedy into their wild suggestions of how Malcolm can do a better job next time doing himself in as the three sing a hilarious, irreverent "Big Ass Rock." While encouraging Malcolm not to kill himself because "we'll do it for you, you've got a friend," their song becomes just one of several examples where a musical that is full of the kind of one-liners, puns and jokes one might hear in the neighborhood bar is also a musical flowing with genuine, manly love for one's fellow bros. Brian Palac as Malcolm MacGregor gives us a glimpse of his drop dead gorgeous tenor voice as he sings, "I've got friends."
To the Jerry and Dave club also comes Noah T. Simmonsbetter known as "Horse" for his large-framed, tall build. Horse is an aging man who comes to the audition walking with a cane. When James Creer tosses Horse's prop aside, he wows the boys (and us, the audience) performing "Big Black Man" while showing off his big, swirling and sassy dance moves, his bigger voice full of basso timber, and his biggest of winning personalities with a face aglow with a thousand possible countenances.
Missing any of the talents Horse has shown is Ethan (Bradley Satterwhite), who is unable to dance up the wall like Fred Astaire, no matter how many times he knocks himself out trying to do so. What he does bring to the group is his hidden "hung talent" that leads to one of the funniest moments of the show as he bares his special gift to a wide-eyed, stunned team of audition judges (but not to us). Mr. Satterwhite has a voice that croons lightly and sweetly. Ethan and Malcolm will eventually join in a duet to sing the night's most beautiful number, "You Walk with Me," in a moving scene that culiminates in a relationship they slowly build in between practices of jerking their midsections and of trying to take belts and pants off without falling down.
Already a part of the dance team and watching Horse's and Ethan's auditions is Jerry's former boss Haroldnow also laid off. Gregory Lynch is the properly attired for the office Harold who has been fooling his wife Vicki for six months into thinking he is still working. Adrienne Herro is Vicki, a devoted wife who still believes that her world is one of future cruises and continued luxury living, singing "Life with Harold" in swing style with a voice that can be deliciously gravelly as well as trombone strong in its belting: "He's a gem, he's a beaut, he looks cute in a suit ... You gotta love that man."
Also loving her out-of-work husband Dave is Georgie, but she is also a ringleader among the women in supporting the local, women-only striptease club. Glenna Murillo has a voice with cannon-worthy power as she brings lots of bombastic spunk in vocals and hip-twirling moves to lead her friends in "It's a Woman's World."
The lyrics and music of David Yazbek are a big reason The Full Monty has such lasting appeal. "You Rule My World" is a stroke of genius as sung by both Dave and Harold, especially when given by director Dennis Lickteig such well-timed and clever juxtaposition from opposite sides of the stage. Harold sings to his sleeping wife, who does not know yet of his unemployment (or of his planning to strip for fast cash), "Look at you, my life, my dream"; at the same time, Dave sings, "Look at you ... I feel your milky skin, caress your silky hair" to his oversized belly that he sees as too gross to please his wife or a potential audience of screaming women looking for bared skin. Their number is just one of many that are clever in concept, appealing in music, and delivered by this cast and director with just the right combination of spunk, spit and spiritas well as full heart.
Not to be overlooked in this great cast of twenty-two is Linda Piccone as Jeanette Burmeister, the boys' pianist plucked out of a retirement home. Jeanette is a wry jokester with enough names dropped to fill a book about her past gigs and run-ins with the likes of Arthur Godfrey to Frank Sinatra. As the spry "group mother," Ms. Piccone brings to full bear her matter-of-fact, low-key vocals in "Jeanette's Showbiz Number" before opening up her lungs full blast to the tell her troupe of wannabe strippers in no uncertain terms the truth as Jeanette sees it.
Lee Ann Payne not only has choreographed a winning finale for these formerly clumsy, still out-of-shape guys, but she also puts them through a terrifically executed and basketball-inspired ballet of sorts as they practice their moves while singing "Michael Jordon's Ball." Lee Ann Payne has created a number of other dance winners for this Monty, such as a series of ballroom dances from Latin cha-cha to tango, performed by the show's ensemble as Jerry and Dave recruit Harold at the his dance class.
Valerie Emmie decks out this cast in everything from ballroom fancy to striptease club dress-up to strippers' rip-off pants and thongs. Kua-Hao Lo establishes the depressed, industrial scene of Buffalo with walls of red brick and corrugated metal and shuffles seamlessly on and off stage scenes of bedrooms and bathrooms as required. Christian Mejia has designed inspired lighting to spotlight strippers in the making, to shifts moods, and to have color highlighted fun with moments of stage hilarity.
Special kudos go to Mark Dietrich as music director, not only for the outstanding sung numbers he directs by individuals and ensemble, but especially for his direction of an eleven-person orchestra that excels in its pitch-perfect brass and in reeds that often serve as a duet partner to singers (as with Malcolm in the opening of "You Walk with Me").
From jogging women silently running after hunky strip stars to duo-scenes occurring onstage where the resulting laugh or sigh happens only if meticulously timed correctly, Dennis Lickteig succeeds in adding special touches as director in ensuring Hillbarn Theatre's The Full Monty will not only meet, but probably exceed incoming expectations of fans of the movie. In the end, his team of actors and creators have stacked the deck such that the answer is guaranteed to be a resounding "Yes" to Ethan's sung question in the finale, "Let It Go":
"Did I capture your imagination?
The Full Monty, through May 20, 2018 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City CA. Tickets are available online at www.hillbarntheatre.org or by calling 650-349-6411.