By Pat Launer
Consider it an anniversary celebration.
Now, “Monty” is back — and the guys go “all the way” again.
The musical, based on the 1997 sleeper hit film, was transported across the pond from Sheffield, England. to Buffalo, NY. But the sadly-still-pertinent story remains intact.
The local steel mill has closed; many men are unemployed, and they feel like “Scrap,” as the song goes. Particularly since the women are now the ones bringing home the bacon. Nothing could undermine and emasculate these men more.
Jerry Lukowski (energetic Steven Freitas) is especially distraught, because he’s way behind on his child support, and he’s at peril of losing joint custody of his young son (adorable Owen Schmutz).
Jerry has mucked up his life so many times, and disappointed his son so often. But this time, he wants to make things right.
He’s too proud to take a low-wage job at the mall or Walmart or his ex-wife’s company. Then he gets a wacky idea, after seeing all the local women shelling out big bucks to see the Chippendales perform.
Jerry decides that he can raise an impressive amount of money in just one night, by gathering a group of regular guys to do a strip show that will be even better than the Chippendales — because they’ll go the whole way (full strip), i.e., The Full Monty.
Hilarity ensues as he and his BFF Dave Bukatinsky (sad/comical Danny Stiles) audition a bunch of losers and wannabes, and pick up a pianist who’s a brassy broad with name-dropping entertainment cred (Devlin is a hoot throughout, and particularly in “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number”).
They finally get six guys ranging in talent, enthusiasm and physical endowment: neurotic, sad-sack Mama’s boy, Malcom (Jonathan Sangster); nervous-nelly Harold (Richard Van Slyke); self-destructive Ethan (Jack Eld); and the singing, dancing “Horse” (Ron Christopher Jones, whose “Big Black Man,” brings down the house).
Terrence McNally’s book and David Yazbek’s score are clever, and at times, poignant. In fact, although the singing is strong and the moves are great (excellent choreography by Paul David Bryant), it’s the dramatic moments, when all the show’s thorny topics arise (unemployment, depression/suicide, body image and sense of self-worth, honesty in marriage, effective parenting) that really shine brightest, and for that, credit is due to director Neil Dale.
At the outset on the night I was there, everyone appeared to be overacting and noticeably pushing, though this could have been a function of the sound; the miking was overly bright, and the above-the-audience 13-piece orchestra (under the skillful direction of Don LeMaster) seemed to be beamed from far away; it was at first hard to tell that they were actually playing live.
The cast (with featured performances by Joy Yandell, Amy Perkins, Karyn Overstreet, Beth Alison and Scott Arnold), seems to be having a genuinely good time, which keeps the voltage high. Note to all, however: Buffalonians do not sound like Noo Yawkahs. The dialect is extremely different, and features flat A’s and hard R’s. Trust me, I’ve lived in both places.
The costumes (Janet Pitcher) and wigs (Peter Herman) are amusing, and period appropriate. The rented sets glide smoothly on and offstage, nicely accented by the lighting (Michelle Miles).
The show is energetic, engaging and entertaining, while touching on serious subjects that add some heft.
- San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “The Full Monty” runs through Feb. 25 at the Horton Grand Theatre, 444 4th Avenue in downtown San Diego
- Performances are Wednesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
- Tickets ($30-$70) are available at 858-560-5740 or sdmt.org
- Running time: 2hrs. 45 min.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.
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