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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Hilarious Yet Touching "The Full Monty" Returns to CentreStage


The Full Monty

Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Terrence McNally

Directed by John R. Leffert
Music directed by Dennis Blake
Choreography by Zachary Boone

Review by Keith Waits.

Entire contents copyright 2012 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

David Beach (Ethan Girard), John R. Leffert (Dave Bukatinsky), Pete Lay (Jerry Lukowski),
Craig Braunner (Malcom MacGreggor), Brent Gettelfinger (Harold Nichols)
and Frank Goodloe III (Noah [Horse] T. Sommins)
The Full Monty is so much fun that I cannot believe this production was my first time seeing it. I am well acquainted with the original film, upon which this lively musical is based; but this was my introduction to the tuneful and very funny score by David Yazbek. And while it may not be Cole Porter, it was a solidly crafted group of songs that met the most important criteria for musical theatre: I walked out humming the tunes.

Terrence McNally’s book is very faithful to the source, transplanting it from working-class South Yorkshire to working-class Buffalo, New York, without giving up too much. The film is obviously more gritty and naturalistic in depicting the economic hardships of a community devastated by unemployment, but the musical stays true to the themes and relationships, even if the natural gloss of the musical format grounds it slightly less in reality.

The script is lean and fast-moving, with a first act that is built for speed, carrying the necessary burden of scenario-building with aplomb and great humor. Very few scores that have emerged from Broadway in the last 20 years are truly memorable, and the music here is probably just slightly above average. But it rises above on several occasions and is distinguished more by the lyrics, which are often funny and do well in developing character and situation. Numbers like “Big-Ass Rock” and “Michael Jordan’s Ball” are effective showcases for the group of men at the center of the story, hilariously illustrating the developing camaraderie as they prepare to mount their striptease act for a one-night-only presentation.

CenterStage veteran Pete Lay leads a terrific cast that makes the most of the material and finds their individual moments to shine without upsetting the ensemble energy. Slightly unusual for a musical in that it is a show about men that pushes any conventional love story into the background, the women are given a little less to do but still manage to make their mark, particularly Julie Zilinski Gabis as Georgie and Kate E. Reedy as Vicki. The relationships with their husbands, Dave (director John Leffert having a good time) and Harold (Brent Gettlefinger), are given just enough poignancy to remind us of the desperation that prompts these hard hats to take on such a supercilious enterprise in the first place.

Scenes were stolen without apology by Rita Hight as Jeannette, the tough-as-nails, seen-it-all show-biz veteran who is their accompanist and cheerleader. Her autobiographical 2nd act number is a classic show-stopper, and Ms. Hight pulls out all the stops and gives the character all the brass she can muster. And Frank Goodloe III gives “Big Black Man” such a vivid and comical run that you will not soon forget how good he is. This is not Mr. Goodloe’s first experience with the role of Horse, and he brings great confidence and skill to the role.

The staging seems just right: excessive where appropriate (some cast members occupying the audience during the first and last scenes worked beautifully); and more restrained when playing the smaller emotional scenes. A particularly lovely moment occurs when Craig Brauner and David Beach sing the plaintive ballad, “You Walk with Me,” in a somber scene that reveals the breadth of some of the score.

At first glance the show seems entirely one-dimensional – a laugh machine that delivers the comic goods effectively. But there are some nice layers in some of the songs, and it is worthwhile to note that the songs of love in this show express affection for a wider range of relationships than the conventional man-woman romantic entanglement we have come to expect. It keeps The Full Monty from being just another “cute” comedy for community theatre audiences. It is solid, well-crafted entertainment, sure enough; but I appreciate that it tries to be a little bit more than that.



The Full Monty

May 10-20, 2012

JCC CenterStage
Linker Auditorium
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205
502-459-0660

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