It’s always fun to attend new productions of plays that I’ve seen and enjoyed when I can bring someone new to see them for the first time. The Full Monty: The Musical is a show I’ve always found enjoyable, and I was fortunate to have attended its closing performance on Broadway on a Sunday matinee in September 2002. From its national tour a year or so later to a spring 2014 production at Otterbein and then The Human Race Theatre Company’s production in Dayton last fall, Short North Stage’s The Full Monty: The Musical is now the fifth production of this show that I’ve seen. This time I brought my friend Bianca who had no knowledge of the musical or the film from which it was based. I enticed her with the promise of male nudity, but it was the humor and heart of the piece that kept her interested.
The Full Monty: The Musical is 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. 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, The Full Monty: The 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.
Director Edward Carignan deftly guides an energetic and jovial cast in this production, aided by a terrific set by Dick Block (who designed the same turntable set for The Human Race Theatre Company production in Dayton last fall and has adapted and expanded it here) and very clear and balanced sound designed by Kevin Rhodus. The sound for a musical is particularly important, and this production is the first to take advantage of Short North Stage’s new sound system; aside from a few blips here and there, voices are clear and the music (aided by music director Jeff Caldwell and conductor Jim Kucera) quite full-sounding without overpowering the vocal performances. Aside from Kieron Cindric (as the professional stripper Buddy) not being mic’d and sometimes being difficult to hear at the performance I attended, the overall aural presentation is solid, positioning Short North Stage to emerge as one of the best producers of musicals in the area.
Standouts in the cast are David Bryant Johnson as Jerry, the dad trying to raise money for child support; Linda Kinnison Roth as crotchety rehearsal pianist Jeanette; Ian Short as the stuffy Harold; Patrick Walters as the rather dim-witted but boyishly handsome Ethan Girard; and Sean Felder as Malcolm, the suicidal mamma’s boy. Evin Hoffman is also perfectly cast as the villain Teddy, Jerry’s ex-wife’s fiancée; you can almost feel his smirk at Jerry’s activities as soon as he steps on stage. Sam Vestey deserves an honorable mention in his small role as Reg; his audition scene is so free of inhibition and honest that it emerges as one of the most touching scenes in the play, a scene usually played for comedy.
The only criticism I have of this production is that the scene changes are often quite slow, idling the engine while the set rotates with some added business being performed on the far left and right of the stage. The show runs a good fifteen minutes longer than I’m used to, but perhaps some of this timing will be improved throughout the run. It didn’t bother Bianca when I mentioned it to her, and it certainly didn’t seem to affect anyone’s enjoyment of the show judging by the applause and chatter I heard at the conclusion. The tender scene between Mr. Walters and Mr. Felder when they confront their budding attraction may also lack some chemistry, but Mr. Felder’s performance of “You Walk With Me” is a major highlight.
The Full Monty: The Musical was rather unfairly overshadowed by the monster hit The Producers during its Broadway run, so I’m pleased to see that it has found a life in regional and local theatres across the country. For a play about stripping, unemployment, and child support, The Full Monty: The Musical is diverting rather than depressing, and its message of acceptance hasn’t dated like its references to VCRs and Sony Trinitron television sets. Short North Stage’s production is to date the best musical I’ve seen produced locally this year, and it serves to make me more excited to see what comes next from this company.
***/ out of ****
The Full Monty: The Musical continues through to April 24th in The Garden Theatre located at 1187 North High Street in Columbus, and more information can be found at http://www.shortnorthstage.org/calendar/v/469