Nudity will always be a big selling point, and when it’s in a musical comedy the potential enjoyment factor is doubled (at least for me). For the opening show of its twenty-ninth season, Dayton’s The Human Race Theatre Company presents The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical, bringing some good old fashioned nudity to The Loft Theatre while also spreading a lot of joy and laughter at the same time.
Based on the 1997 surprise hit film about a group of unemployed steel mill workers putting on a strip show to raise money for their families as well as raise their spirits, The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical premiered on Broadway in the fall of 2000 and ran for almost two years; it also had the misfortune of opening in the same season as Mel Brooks’s The Producers, which swept the Tony Awards for the 2000-2001 season. Theatre legend Terrence McNally adapted the screenplay for the stage, adeptly transplanting the action from Sheffield, England, to Buffalo, New York, with music and lyrics added by the criminally underrated David Yazbek, with “You Rule My World” and “You Walk With Me” the standouts from a consistently tuneful and appropriate score. While the play may have one too many manufactured obstacles at the end (I just don’t buy that Jerry, the guy behind the whole event in the first place, and faced with losing joint custody due to being behind in child support payments, would suddenly decide not to go on and then change his mind again five minutes later), The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical is very entertaining and, dare I say it, even moving in its depiction of men down on their luck banding together to prove to their families and themselves that they can rise above their current employment statuses and work together to accomplish a goal.
There isn’t a bad egg in the entire cast, but special recognition should go to Christopher deProphetis as Jerry Lukowski, bringing swagger and likability to what can be an iffy character; Matt Welsh as cuddly Dave Bukatinsky, showing that handsome arrives in a variety of packages; Deb Colvin-Tener as Jeanette Burmeister, playing decades older than she is believably and with sass; Jamie Cordes as Harold Nichols, the unassuming silver fox/dance captain; Josh Kenney as lovably dim and gravity-challenged Ethan Girard; Matt Kopec as Malcolm MacGregor, whose performance of “You Walk With Me” is as close to definitive as one is likely to hear live; Richard E. Waits as Noah “Horse” T. Simmons, who explodes out of his clothes with verve in the finale, careful to hold back all that he was hiding until just the right moment; Jillian Jarrett as Jerry’s ex, Pam Lukowski, making sure that she’s not just a stereotypical bitch but a willing co-parent; and Richard Jarrett as Keno, the unbearably attractive and suave stripper who sets a physical standard that all men should be judged against (and probably found lacking) while also exuding a lot of charm.
Set designer Dick Block deserves a special award for the rotating set that has panels that open to represent locations as varied as a factory to a dance studio to a suburban home. The movement among the cast and crew is precise like clockwork as they work together to transform the set for each scene while the part of the set not facing the audience is redressed for the next change (kudos to director Joe Deer for making the show move so seemingly effortlessly). At one point the set turns about a hundred and twenty degrees, stops, and a hidden panel opens to reveal a door to the front of a character’s home – just ingenious, and a terrific use of the space.
The only problem I had with this production was the sound; it was excellent except during the musical numbers, a big problem for a musical. Space constraints keep the orchestra from being visible, so they are backstage and their playing is amplified through the sound system. But that isn’t the problem – the issue is that the music is too loud and drowns out the vocal performances. There were several moments when the actors appeared to be straining to be louder only to be undone by the sound board engineer. The music also has a slightly muffled, compressed quality, with the high end all but missing with booming bass and no discernible separation between the instruments. I thought it was a prerecorded track at first because it just didn’t sound live at all, and I hope some adjustments are made in regards to the sound design for future performances.
For a show about stripping with warnings of nudity and adult language on the advertising, The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical emerges as oddly sweet and sensitive, less about sex than about confidence and the importance of family. This production still has the ribald dialogue and requisite brief nudity (saved for the very end in this production), but it comes off as less raunchy than I remember, more PG13 than R. The material is strong enough to survive being tamed a bit, and perhaps some open minded parents may bring their teens to see it. There is so much good natured humor and talent on display here that it would be a shame for younger theatregoers (I’d say thirteen and up) to miss out because of content concerns; after all, they won’t hear or see anything salacious they probably haven’t been exposed to before, but they will get to see an entertaining live show that will surely keep their attention away from their mobile devices for a few hours while they think that they’re getting away with something.
***/ out of ****
The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical continues through to October 4th in The Loft Theatre at 126 North Main Street in downtown Dayton (about an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://humanracetheatre.org/1516/full-monty/index.php