Wednesday, January 31, 2018

“Full Monty” Bares It All in SDMT Return Production

Opening night patrons at “The Full Monty”, excitedly gathered around in small groups wondering aloud, “Will they really strip?” and “How will they do it?” The answers are yes they do, and wait and see. This is theatre after all, where illusion, reality and imagination get fuzzy and blend into our own truth.


As impatience and near frenzy followed the crowd into the theatre, anticipation mounted and by the time the curtain went up, some were already buzzing out loud. Unfortunately, those in the audience hootin’ and howlin’ before anything actually happened, caused many patrons sitting around them difficulty hearing the dialogue coming from the actors. Sorry folks, that’s not good theatre karma.

San Diego Musical Theatre is reviving its 2007 production of  “The Full Monty” at the Horton grand Theatre downtown through Feb. 25th. According to producers Erin Lewis and hubby Gary “It was a perfect musical to start off our 2018 Broadway season of musicals at Horton Grand Theatre.”
Danny Stiles and Steven Freitas
The ‘musical’ “The Full Monty” is based on the 1997 Oscar nominated film of the same name. Briefly, it is the story of six average; some past prime, some overweight, some uncoordinated, and unemployed factory workers struggling to support their families; they are laid off without their full wages or no wages.

After noticing that their wives are agog and a glee clamoring to see Chippendale dancer, Buddy “Keno” Walsh, (Scott Arnold) when he came to town for a one-night stand Jerry Lukowski gets an idea to some raise money by doing the same thing.

The 1997 movie version takes place in Sheffield, England where the men are steelworkers. Terrence McNally wrote the book, and David Yazbek, music and lyrics. It’s a fun romp that will have you leaving with a smile and a chuckle.

An updated incarnation that premiered at the Old Globe in 2000 before going to Broadway, moved the location to a new setting where the men now laid off, are mill workers and ergo, Buffalo, N.Y seemed the perfect place.

No accents required and minimalist sets (originally designed by Circa 21) plus some pretty bright ‘back atcha lights’ (Michelle Miles) that just about blind before the curtain drops and voilà the guys are gone, but the memory of what might have been lingers.

Of course that didn’t stop those curious voyeurs from peeking around corners after the G-strings were released, but the old hat trick holding the goods keeps everything in tact. Listening to the screams coming from the audience, though, one might have thought…oh well.
Danny Stiles, Jonathan Sangster and Steven Freitas
When hard hit and out of work down on his luck Jerry Lukowski (Steven Freitas is as appealing as he is effective) and his overweight best friend Dave (Danny Stiles) can’t seem to land a decent job and gain their self-respect back, they come up with a plan to raise some money on their own.

Coincidentally that’s when the “Chippendale” the dancers arrived in his home- town. Price didn’t seem to be an obstacle for their wives, who jam fistfuls of cash in their G-strings with money from their jobs. (“It’s A Woman’s World”)

Jerry gets the idea to put ‘real Buffalo’ men in a strip ‘n show of their own. Jerry is in a big bind in a big way. In order to make sure that there is enough money in the pot he ticks the entrance fee up a bit and announces that not only will they perform a la Chippendale, he promises to bare it all, Yup, The Full Monty. Now that takes chutzpah!

Pay attention. These are your average overweight, small, tall, uncoordinated, black, white, gay, self conscious, past prime time guys who need cash, not only for them, but for their friend Jerry who will lose custody of his son Nathan (a sweet and persuasive Owen Schmutz) because of back child support. It’s a hoot to watch.

DSteven Freitas and Amy Perkins
Adding to the pressure, Jerry’s ex wife Pam (Amy Perkins) isn’t making it any easier by threatening to take away his visitation rights if there’s no child support money coming in.

The men convince their old boss, Harold (Richard Van Slyke) to give them dancing lessons, over his better judgment.  (“Life With Harold”) Harold lives above his means and his wife Vicky (Karyn Overstreet ~’Vicki’s Cha Cha’) spends like they have it, but concedes anyway.  
 Rehearsals, and getting everyone on board is a struggle. This group of amateurs has its moments; especially watching the relationship between Malcolm and Ethan (Jonathan Sangster and Jack Eld), develop. (“You Walk With Me”)

In the end when they formally ‘come out’, they are an accepted couple by all the guys. The writers had some pretty progressive thinking for the nineties. For macho mill workers to accept a gay couple yes, progressive indeed.

Ron Christopher Jones, as Noah “Horse” T Simmons enters rehearsals looking like a street person. After a few non-starters, he amazes as the best and most experienced dancer of the lot.

As the token black in the ensemble Jones gives an outstanding performance in “Big Black Man”. He also shows the group that by imitating Michael Jordan’s moves in “Michael Jordan’s Ball”, dancing is a nothing but a series of basketball moves.
Ron Ghristopher Jones and Cas

Dave's character is one of the most developed and she is most convincing. “It’s like Davie’s given up on everything, including me. I come home to this zombie
I loved the give and take between Yandell’s Georgie and Dave as he lets his weight and body image get in the way of any intimacy she so longs for. Coming from the male perspective it is one of the beautiful outcomes of this particular story.
Georgie: “It’s making me nuts. Months and months not even a hug. I’ve tried everything from Victoria’s Secret to losing 15 pounds. The girls at work are pushing Prozac on me. I don’t need a pill. I need my husband back.
Joy Yandell
Not to be outdone by any of the adults in the company, Owen Schmultz is perfectly comfortable on stage and has as much poise as any of the seasoned veterans. As the only child in a field of adults, Owen’s Nathan is one of turnabout is fair play as he guides his father, Jerry, to start acting like an adult and get on with the business of being a parent.

Veteran actress, Devlin (just Devlin) is, once again, in rare form as Jeanette Burmeister, the piano playing, tough talking, old hand who doesn’t mind sharing a swig or two from her little er, pocket flask. She comes on, the stage lights up. It’s just that simple.
Steven Freitas and Devlin
Neil Dale deserves credit for breathing life into his versatile cast and dealing with, sensitive issues and giving them heart. The talented ensemble including Luke Harvey Jacobs, Sydney Joyner, Stella Kim, Shayne Mims, Paul Morgavo and Alex Nemirosky add to the overall look filling in where needed.

The industrial background look works just fine with Michelle Miles lighting and Kevin Anthenill’s sound design. Musical director from the get-go Don LeMaster works his magic once again,

Janet Pitcher’s ninety’s tie dye frocks for the women looked right; the show is more about the guys; work uniforms, Jeans, T-shirts and plaids are standard for them until they got down to the nitty-gritty and then there was an array of boxers and jockey’s. For the show, they wear uniforms with hats for protection in more ways than one.

The play is fun and somewhat tantalizing especially if you’ve not seen it before. The story goes on a bit too long leading up to the finality and no tunes will escape your lips as you leave the theatre even though there are about fifteen musical (albeit small) numbers tat oft highlight the action.

But by the time the guys, who are spot on terrific, work up the nerve
to go ‘full Monty’, everyone in the audience (and that includes the actors playing the spouses lining the side isles) are rooting for a hootenanny ending. (“Let It Go”)

Note: lighting designer Michael Miles is the one responsible for the blinding lights in the background. Just sayin’.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 25th
Organization: San Diego Musical Theatre
Phone: 858-560-5740
Production Type: Musical
Where: 444 Fourth Ave., San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Horton Grand Theatre

Photo: Ken Jacques


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