The popular musical mixes everyday characters with bawdy themes for a raucous night out
It’s always a curious thing to revisit a piece of theatre you’ve seen several times before. Will it still resonate? Will the jokes still be funny, the drama still poignant? What is it that keeps a play or musical coming back around, year after year, still pulling in audiences?
With The Fully Monty, it’s all about the story. Sure, some of the songs are catchy but nothing amazing. The characters, by their nature, are standard American types (or, if you’re talking about the original 1997 film, typical British blokes).
Seeing this one again reminded me why the film and later musical had something a little special. The story hits a lot of normal-people themes: standard marital problems, body image concerns, gender roles, money, divorce, child support and, sure, sex. There’s a lot packed into the show, with several parallel story lines atop the comic premise about six out-of-work steel workers in Buffalo out to make a quick buck with a strip show.
It’s not a simple show to put on, with its sizeable cast, frequent scene changes and requirement of a half-dozen or so strong male singer-dancers. The production up now at the PACE Center in Parker is a solid effort, a joint production between Parker Arts and Sasquatch Productions (director Kelly McAllister and assistant director August Stolen). There’s plenty of room to play on the PACE’s big stage, and the set pieces do a serviceable job setting the scene. And while some of the scenes were under-lit, technically the show looks pretty good.
At the heart of The Full Monty is a divorced single dad named Jerry (Stolen) who’s behind on his support payments for his son Nathan (Zac Streeter). After seeing how the women of Buffalo shell out the coin to see some Chippendales, Jerry gets the probably-terrible idea to get some of his buddies together for a more home-grown version. After sort-of convincing his best friend Dave (Brandon Bill) to go along, they hold tryouts and get a motley crew of dudes willing to lay it all out there for a hoped-for sum of $50,000.
Not long before the big night, some ladies inform them there’s a Bill’s game at the same time, so Jerry tells them the show will be something special because they’ll strip completely naked (“the full monty”). This is somehow enough to pack the house at a local bar, but there’s a whole lot of cold feet leading up to it.
There are a number of nice performances in here, chief among them Brandon Bill’s Dave. He’s the overweight guy who’s so depressed about his joblessness that his marriage is at risk. Bill is a tremendous singer and a strong presence on stage who has some touching performances with his wife Georgie (a brassy Jessica Sotwick). How this weight-conscious character to don a G-string and bare it all in front of everyone he knows is a story in itself.
As the plant manager who can’t bring himself to tell his wife he’s out of work, Nick James Johnson is a funny and believable Harold. And Danielle Herman Wood is fantastic as his wife, Vicki. These two together have some of the show’s most funny and sentimental scenes, particularly when she finally finds out and he learns that her love for him goes beyond what he can buy for her.
The other couple that forms during the show is with two of the guys: Malcom and Ethan (Parker Fowler and Cooper Kaminsky). The two men harmonize beautifully together and have a believable revelation about who they are as they fall for one another.
As Horse, Asad Clinton is a ton of fun, and he has a good time playing off the character of Jeanette (Barbara Porreca) — an old-time entertainer who appears out of nowhere to help with the show.
The one relationship that didn’t seem to gel is the one between Jerry and Nathan. The story shows a boy becoming a man as he helps encourage his father to be better, but it didn’t come across as well as it might have.
The Jerry character has to walk a fine line between a vulnerable screwup and someone able to convince a bunch of guys to strip for money, and he’s also got to be likeable. Stolen gets most of the way there, but there is a bit of a vacuum at the center of the show.
Fortunately, the cast overall is a strong one, and the live orchestra led by Blake Nawa’a does a nice job accompanying the action.
And when the lights come up on the guys after they’ve finally done what they have to do to make their peace with the whole crazy idea, the audience is in it 100 percent. Sure, maybe the money won’t last long, but we leave believing the guys have a new attitude that will, hopefully, put them in a better place.