The naked truth is, The Full Monty is a cock tease. You won't see the full anything in this gently ribald musical, now onstage at Addison's WaterTowerTheatre. The working-stiff characters who band together for a one-night-only all-male strip act promise to take it all off, but the big finale of the show-within-the-show has them unsnapping their sparkly red thongs so quickly (and in front of bright backlighting) that there's nary a glimpse of things.

Oh, well. The show delivers OK, aside from the packages.

Adapted from the 1997 movie about laid-off British steelworkers, the David Yazbek/Terrence McNally musical, now 10 years old, feels a lot less risqué than it used to. Maybe that's because there are more people everywhere who are out of work and strapped for income, just like the show's six decent blokes. Shifted from industrial Sheffield, England, to Rust Belt Buffalo, New York (where the unemployment rate is currently 15 percent), the musical is built around a silly striptease scheme that now looks like a dandy way to generate quick cash. Why aren't there groups like the show's "Hot Metal" sextet doffing their jocks to music in every burg and hamlet in the USA? Come on, men, get busy.

Checks, please! 
Christopher J. Deaton is the Buffalo wild thing in WaterTower Theatre’s The Full Monty.
Kari Engelbrecht
Checks, please! Christopher J. Deaton is the Buffalo wild thing in WaterTower Theatre’s The Full Monty.

The Full Monty, a feel-good musical comedy for grown-ups, certainly has become a moneymaking box office booster for regional theaters in recent years. Theatre Three had a hit with it in the local debut in 2006 (starring the adorable, velvet-voiced Gary Floyd). Theatre Arlington is casting it right now for a September run.

WaterTower's production, directed by Terry Martin, with an assist by musical theater specialist Donald Fowler, is good fun, but it sure gets off to a slow start. The 80-minute first act sags under exposition about how each guy gets conscripted into the striptease plan. Central character Jerry Lukowski (Michael Isaac), a divorced dad, owes child support and risks losing shared custody of son Nathan (Max Ary) if he doesn't pay up soon. Jerry's pal Dave Bukatinsky (Stephen Bates) stress-eats in secret, singing a poignant love song to his own flabby gut while tuning out his ball-buster wife (Mary Gilbreath Grim). Former executive Harold Nichols (Bryan Dobson) can't bring himself to tell his spendthrift missus (Jenny Thurman) that they're broke and all their luxury items are about to be repossessed.

We learn less about the other three. Noah (Guinn Powell) sings "Big Black Man" and is one, except below the belt, which he's afraid to reveal to the public. Elfin-sized Ethan (Scott Zenreich) is packin', which gives him the outsized confidence to think he can dance up walls like Donald O'Connor. He can't. Wimpy, suicidal Malcolm (Jason Kennedy) still lives with his ailing mom.

The men have to triumph over shortcomings—physical, mental, financial and otherwise—to carry off their night in the spotlight. And they're in awe of real Chippendales dancer Keno (Christopher J. Deaton), who's gifted with washboard abs and struts a black G-string that hides only his jumbly bits. They cowboy up in the end, but not without the clichéd "I quit" and "I can't go on" stumbles.

In a bit of inspired casting, Pam Dougherty, cigarette dangling from her lips, plays Jeanette Burmeister, the guys' gristly rehearsal accompanist. Dougherty, last seen here as "Big Edie" in Grey Gardens, kicks the second act into high gear with her razzamatazz solo, "Jeanette's Showbiz Number."

If only the men in this cast had Dougherty's spot-on comic timing and her way of selling a song. If only they had the power vocals of co-stars Thurman, Grim and Megan Kelly Bates (actor Stephen's real-life wife). The dudes are woefully short of oomph.

Isaacs, in the lead as Jerry, is such a block of blah that it's easy to forget who he is from scene to scene. In his bedside ballad to young Nathan, "Breeze off the River," one of composer Yazbek's nicest tunes, Isaac's as expressive as a nightstand.

Bates, the big, bald boy in the group, turns out to be a light-on-his-tootsies dancer, and he has that sexy-mischievous twinkle that turns lots of ladies (and gay men) into unrepentant chubby chasers. It's his acting that's thin. Kennedy, playing the shy guy, has the best voice, but his touching song with Zenreich, "You Walk with Me," is nearly drowned out by the volume of the band (led by Mark Mullino and shelved high above the WaterTower stage).

At nearly three hours, The Full Monty is a long evening of penis jokes and awkward dancing. But you'll forgive most of the missteps and even the weak casting as they peel off their skivvies to "Let It Go." There aren't many shows that leave their audiences laughing and their leading men wearing nothing but a smile.

The Festival of Independent Theatres is still going on at the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake, playing to sold-out crowds in its first two weekends. Eight small theater companies are presenting short plays in rotating repertory. They're all under an hour each, with nothing in common except their brevity and their use of good local talent.

Echo Theatre's Bible Women joins White Rock Pollution's Alice in Wonderland as the must-sees of this year's 12th annual festival. Bible Women is composer Elizabeth Swados' song cycle celebrating forgotten female figures from the Old Testament. For this production, additional dialogue and transitions have been written by Dallas playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood.

Denise Lee leads the cast of five, her thrilling voice burning with emotion in the story-song of Sarah, wife of Abraham and the Bible's most famous late-in-life first-time mother. Terri Ferguson sings the tale of Babylonian Queen Vashti, who defies her husband by refusing to parade naked at one of his lavish parties. For that, she is put to death.

Annie Benjamin becomes Esther, the "Jewish Mata Hari," and then plays some hot jazz flute with musical director Scott A. Eckert's trio. Jodi Wright sings as Lilith, the first woman in Eden, so disappointed by lack of equality with Adam that she flees the Garden, to be replaced by Eve. Amy Fisher Hughes reminds us how sexy the scriptures can be in her interpretation of the erotic poetry of "Song of Songs."

Under the direction of Pam Myers-Morgan, Bible Women makes beautiful music from these ancient legends.

Second Thought Theatre's FIT entry, Once More, With Feeling (A Power Play), a ghastly one-act by Christina Cigala, tests the patience and, looking at that title, also flunks the punctuation quiz. Characters named "A" and "B" (Cara L. Reid, Matthew Clark) carry on nonsensical conversations about boy-girl relations as a be-robed chorus (Jason Robert Villareal, Tiffany Lonsdale-Hands), including a man in drag (Sachin Patel), makes noises and sings a brain-rattling "bom-bom-bom-BOM-bom" tune. They sing it incessantly and loudly, until you want to leap out of your seat and throttle them one by one to make them stop. It does, finally. Just not soon enough.

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