Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Full Monty
Also see Richard's review of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play
There are some changes, intentional and perhaps inevitable too: in the original, gritty, desperate British film (1997), a police chase leads to a frantic gay "make-out" scene for two of the characters, which is deleted, or re-written here into something pleasantly sentimental; and where the film's leading man Jerry seemed scruffy and even a bit unhinged, Brent Michael Diroma is mostly just adorable, despite his conscientious efforts not to be the Prince Charming he was clearly born to be.
So if you only take those two points into consideration, you might say it's a sanitized version of the original moviehere, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, who brought us the fine musicalization of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The songs aren't (cumulatively) as good as those in Scoundrels, but to be fair, none of them stink either.
There's plenty of "un-sanitized" stuff, too, in this reprisal of Stages' 2007 production, with the beloved Zoe Vonder Haar back as Jeanette, the world-weary accompanist, once the striptease plot is conceived. There are gritty moments sprinkled throughout: an attempted suicide, failing marriages left and right, a straight guy who gets beat up by a gay guy, and lots and lots of worried questions about penis size.
There are indeed magical moments in a few of the songs, too. In fact, Mr. Diroma's "Breeze Off the River" is a genuinely beautiful love song (here, to Jerry's sleeping son Nathan, the outstanding Cole Hoefferle) from beginning to end; and later "You Rule My World" is pretty terrific too, as two of the troubled couples find their way back to love.
Director Michael Hamilton has made it a good, strong ensemble piece, with Todd A. Horman doing very well as the best friend Dave, who must grapple with body issues (he's about 60 pounds heavier than Mr. Diroma) as the striptease night approaches.
The other would-be strippers are fine, too, as are the various wives and girlfriends who flow across the stage like emotional subtitles to the main action of the plot. The notable exception to this general marginalization of actresses is the vivacious Julia Cardia as Vicki, a spendthrift spouseshe's by far the most interesting of the younger women on stage, thanks in part to the script and songs.
The story gets the potentially stressful issue of male strippers out of the way in a hurry. As Buddy "Keno" Walsh, Ian Paget does the old bump and grind (with admirable prowess) for a ladies' night event early onbut there's still enough "beefcake" to help shape the storyline (adapted here by Terence McNally).
The songs don't particularly plunge into (or out of) the heart of the characters, however. You can almost see tunesmith Yazbek checking off a list as he scribbles his way through the score, using musical numbers to acknowledge human problems, but then quickly moving on (there is also no duet for Jerry and the touching redhead Leah Berry, as Pam, his ex-wife). As a result of the inevitably crowded structure of ensemble pieces, we're left with a fan-dance of real life, with a peek-a-boo superficiality and flashing views of angst-ridden bedrooms, where nothing too serious (or too sexy) ever really happens.
But there is an undeniable joyfulness, and an odd sense of achievement in the final striptease, because everything has been building (very self-consciously) to that moment. And though these laid-off steelworkers (and their newfound friends) acquit themselves with panache, you may also be reminded of the awkward children's band at the end of The Music Man, where family members cheer them on from the sidelines.
It reminds me of the old Alfred Hitchcock prediction that some day producers will just push keys on an organ-like device, and the audience will feel pain, or sorrow, or joy. And, like most movies-made-into-musicals, this one has that same mechanized feel to it. Thankfully, though, we're still years away from having actual wires implanted in our brains.
Through October 4, 2015, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, at the south end of the Kirkwood Recreation Center, 111 South Geyer. For more information visit www.stagesstlouis.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers in the US.