Michael L. Quintos
- OnStage Los Angeles Critic
FULLERTON CA - Perhaps as a slight warning to keep any anticipated complaints about its adult humor and occasional scenes of nudity at bay, 3-D Theatricals' co-founder and artistic director T.J. Dawson—in a slightly mock-perturbed tone—decided to pre-admonish any potential objections a few audience members may raise for the bits of, um, cheekiness they're about to see.
"We rip the band-aid off ten minutes in," claimed Dawson, who also specifically helmed the production he was here to introduce. "And it's not like there are any body parts here you've never seen before!"
True. The disclaimer—uttered as part of the Orange County opening night remarks for 3-DT's new regional production of the 2000 Broadway musical 'THE FULL MONTY'—was certainly appreciated, but hardly warranted, because as far as I could tell from the uproarious laughs and boisterous applause it received, the show was a resounding success.
Bawdy, naughty, but actually quite adorably harmless, 3-DT's latest Broadway-caliber offering is an all-out laugh riot, filled with lots of silliness and even occasional social commentary, delivered via a crowd-pleasing book by playwright Terrence McNally and clever music and lyrics by David Yazbek.
Need to chuckle for a couple of hours? Then check out this admirable production which will be finishing up its final weekend at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, CA through May 8, 2016 (be forewarned, though, that the show has already played at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center before its Plummer Auditorium performances in Fullerton... normally it's the reverse order, but not for this show this time around).
For those new to the material, THE FULL MONTY is actually yet another Broadway musical adapted from a film, an independent surprise hit British comedy released in 1997, which eventually went on to receive four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture (it won for Best Score). While the film takes place in working-class Sheffield, England, its stage musical adaptation is—very smartly—re-set in blue collar Buffalo, New York, where the story remains essentially the same, but now with an Americanized angle (not that one culture is better than the other—it's just, now, a little more localized).
As THE FULL MONTY proves, some stories just transcend international borders.
Here, the stage musical's plot revolves around six unemployed former steel-mill workers, who are now all struggling to make ends meet and sustain their lives without a steady stream of income after the shutdown of their factory (unfortunately, unemployment checks just don't cut it).
With job prospects scarce all around and mounds of bills piling up, divorced blue collar dad Jerry (solid actor Allen Everman) strikes up a rather outlandish idea for some fast cash that he runs by his best bud Dave (the winning Matthew Downs) after the two of them sneak into the "girl's night" at the local strip club Giordano's: how about the two of them put together their own Chippendales-type of group made up of "regular" dudes from the neighborhood? How about they have own male stripping act?
Jerry's project is directly inspired by his observation of the cash-fueled frenzy incited by popular local male stripper Keno (the very, um, blessed Justin Berti) amongst the ravenous women in their town, and he is convinced that this relatively easy money-making scheme is a surefire winner he can replicate, only with more "realistic" men like him and Dave.
You see, Jerry is really motivated to make a quick buck for very good reasons: his ex-wife Pam (Lauren Decierdo) is threatening to take him to court to gain full custody of their son Nathan (Dante Marenco) unless he comes up with all the missing child support payments he has neglected since he lost his job.
Naturally, Dave has his reservations over this ridiculous suggestion, particularly because he's quite insecure about his own weight—an insecurity that, along with his current joblessness, is also adversely affecting his marriage to oft-ignored wife Georgie (Jeanette Dawson). In his mind, Dave understandably wonders why in the world would he—a large man with a large belly—would ever even think about going commando in front of a bunch of judgmental women?
And, of course, there's also the nagging doubt hovering over their entire enterprise: are the women in town going to want to watch "regular" guys strip versus the fit, sculpted Adonises at Giordano's?
Going from blue collar to no collar certainly does take some enormous effort. Hilariously, their endeavor is fraught with multiple obstacles, including the, er, eccentric collection of men that ends up joining their ranks.
First, there's geeky, socially-awkward Malcolm (the endearing Tyler Miclean), the steel mill's former security guard whom Jerry and Dave initially meet while saving him from committing suicide inside a smoke-filled car (you'll learn through the course of the show that Malcolm's pain is layered and quite deep).
Then there's Harold (the superb David Engel), the steel mill's ex-foreman who reluctantly agrees to join as the troupe's resident choreographer, with the hope that this will enable him to keep lying about his now 6-months-and-counting unemployment to his wife Vicki (Janna Cardia), a woman with expensive tastes that he must continue to fund somehow.
Later, after a series of hilarious auditions, they eventually welcome two other dancers to the fold: Noah (the incredible Rovin Jay), an aging African-American dance dynamo nicknamed "Horse," with some not-so-hidden, rapidly surfacing joint problems masked by his funky moves; and, lastly, Ethan (the adorkable Nick Waaland) who perpetually fails in his repeated attempts to recreate Donald O'Connor's infamous run-and-flip-from-a-wall routine that the actor showcased in Singin' In the Rain. No matter, though... what Ethan lacks in rhythm or acrobatics, he makes up for by having a rather huge endowment, which has ensured his membership in this new male stripping group, which Jerry names "Hot Metal." Ha!
And in perhaps the stage adaptation's most wonderful, welcome addition to the story, the character of Jeannette Burmeister—played by magnificent scene-stealer Candi Milo—joins the gang out of nowhere to be the troupe's resident accompanist, whether they like it or not.
"Where did she come from?"
"She just showed up!"
McNally has given Jeannette much of the book's best and most deliciously witty one-liners, and Milo delivers them with such impeccable comedic cadence that all of her bits earn huge, well-deserved laughs every single time. I find it funny that the show's loudest cheers were for someone who steals the show with every brief but memorable appearance—without even having to shed a single article of clothing! In several points of the musical, Milo's portrayal of Jeannette—filled with fantastical anecdotes and shocking recollections—is so impressive that part of me wishes to see Jeannette get her very own prequel musical depicting her wildly exciting past, frankly.
So as expected, the road to the boys' first public, paid-for performance is quite rocky. From money problems, rehearsal woes, and wardrobe trepidation, to an embarrassing arrest and a sudden death in the family for one of the guys, Hot Metal seems poised for a break-up before it even reaches opening night.
And the big kicker? Well, to drum up interest and boost ticket sales, Jerry has promised one thing about Hot Metal's show that no other male stripper troupe is brave enough to offer: the so-called "Fully Monty!"
Talk about exposure!
Nonetheless, it's a safe bet that everything all works out in the, uh, end... when everyone learns to just "let it go"—inhibitions, self-doubt, fear, and everything else that holds one back from being authentic and real.
Insanely goofy with plenty of room for heart, THE FULL MONTY is an exceedingly entertaining musical comedy that mixes adult humor with universal, emotionally-thoughtful themes that explore self-esteem, self-worth, adult responsibility, and even acceptance of others. Expanding from the film's Oscar-nominated screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, playwright McNally and songwriter Yazbek have tapped into the struggles of so-called "regular" Americans—and the humor that can derive from it—who are all striving to keep themselves in constant arm's reach of the American dream, which often feels like it is fading more and more each day because it requires lots and lots of sustained funding and lots and lots of sustained hope.
Several characters, if not all, face hopelessness in their daily lives—some even to the point of an inability to keep going. For people like Jerry, hopelessness turns into desperation. That desperation, though, here triggers creativity and inventiveness, which in most cases is the better route to take. It may be unconventional, but, hey, this country is built on wild, eccentric ideas isn't it?
So, does THE FULL MONTY's humor and, yes, even its dramatic moments still hold up decades after its debut? Absolutely.
Countless movies and TV shows have certainly proven through the years that the appearance of "regular" folks attempting activities totally out of their comfort zones is always a great source for comedic possibilities. The sight of so-called "macho," "regular" men awkwardly doing "sexy" stripper moves while wearing oh-so-wrong thongs is pretty damn funny.
On the flip side, perhaps, sadly, because our country hasn't quite recovered fully from the economic strife that hit such blue-collar industries across the U.S. during the brink of the millennium, the hardships experienced by the characters in this musical also still ring very true and very current. We see this in Jerry and even Harold, both of whom feel money helps in getting people to keep liking them.
Additionally, some of its heartbreaking themes, such as Dave's body image issues that are affecting his marriage (strongly rendered by Downs in his best performance at 3-DT to date), and even young Malcolm's debilitating loneliness and parental struggles make THE FULL MONTY a very universal, very relatable musical.
Everman, quite fittingly, lives up to his last name when playing everyman Jerry. At first, the character is pretty much a bit of a "loser," always thinking of himself, reaching for the quick, easy way out, and disappointing people left and right. But his unavoidable personal and financial situation—exacerbated by his continuing unemployment—certainly contributes to his feeling emasculated, unable to keep a wife and properly support his kid, both of whom he clearly loves.
This manifests in jerky behavior: Jerry hurls unnecessary homophobic insults, particularly towards Keno, who, funny enough, is making all the ladies hot and bothered more than Jerry does—which only further emphasizes his already volatile insecurity.
How wonderful, then, to see Everman's palpably transformative performance, where his growing, all-consuming compassion for his son transfers over into compassion toward's his best friend's vulnerability over his outward appearance. It even shows up later in the compassion he develops upon the discovery of a blossoming romantic relationship between two of his new dancers (quite an awww moment that even gets a beautifully-sung, tear-inducing ballad despite Jerry's too-quick ideology reversal that needed to be scripted stronger).
Yes, 3-DT's regional revival of THE FULL MONTY is definitely buoyed by its impressive ensemble—particularly Hot Metal's sexy six-some and their "stage mom" Milo. The actors convincingly make their characters a very likable bunch... so much so that audiences will find it very easy to care for and invest in their eventual success in such an exposed pursuit.
Besides Dawson's thoughtful staging and direction, the show's overall likability factor is also aided by Leslie Stevens, whose contextual choreography covers both the awkward initial steps of a budding stripper troupe and, eventually, the carefully planned-out movements for their finalé dance (kudos, too, for Keno's opening number striptease routines that had the show's female cast members in a tizzy).
The serviceable sets, highlighted by a weathered corrugated metal motif provided by Networks and lit by lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier, help transform the Plummer stage into the blue collar environments of pre-millennium Buffalo. Musical director/conductor Corey Hirsch leads the show's impressive orchestra with rhythmic precision, but I still feel a bit short-changed by the somewhat muffled music filtered from the pit (the sound feels like they're playing from a different building covered with blankets). This seems to be an unavoidable drawback of the Plummer itself, which will hopefully be alleviated once 3-DT transfers over to its new home in Cerritos.
In addition to the sound, I wasn't sold on placing a few of the female actors—playing rather enthusiastic patrons of the male strip club—scattered within the first few rows of seats with the audience at the start of the show. While I completely understand the idea of having them actually seated with the audience, some of their screams and hollers felt quite grating, especially in its frequency and close, decibel-piercing proximity. I knew right away what was happening, but I saw a lot of confused faces around me wondering if these "theatergoers" were actors in the musical or just random audience members being just a tad too concert-screamy at a stage musical and not actual actors. A somewhat similar concept worked better in the finalé, when the actors screamed and hollered from the sides/aisles and directly standing in front of the pit/stage. By then everyone's in on the joke and it works.
An extra special congratulations, though, to wardrobe coordinators Jessica Kuhns and Alexandra Johnson for keeping the men appropriately clothed—and inappropriately full-monty'ed, too.
Overall, 3-DT's production is a winning comedic triumph, hitting lots of the original's hilarious highs and touching lows. A rousing comedy that pokes fun at those that defy convention by means of rather conventional, universal themes everyone can relate to, is the very reason to go see this musical again.
* Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ *
Photos of 3-D Theatricals' presentation of THE FULL MONTY by Isaac James Creative.
Remaining performances of 3-D Theatricals' Production of THE FULL MONTY continue at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, CA through May 8, 2016. For tickets or more information, call 714-589-2770 or visit 3DTheatricals.org