Carlsbad, CA---If you wanted to hear buzz, you should have been at the opening of New Village Arts “The Full Monty” now on stage through Sept. 7th. Opening night patrons of “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 and imagination get fuzzy”. As impatience and near frenzy followed the crowd into the theatre, anticipation mounted and by the time the curtain went up, we were ready for IT.
IT is the Full Monty, or better yet, it’s the guys in the show, all six out of work and down on their luck average, well… Americans from Buffalo, NY who decide to bare it all in a plot one of them cooked up to raise some money.
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 without their full wages or no wages, who come up with the idea (after seeing it advertised at a local establishment) of becoming strippers a la “Chippendale”, and bare it all.
The movie version takes place in Sheffield, England where the men are steelworkers. Terrence McNally wrote the book, and David Yazbek, music and lyrics.
The new incarnation that premiered at the Old Globe in 2000 before going to Broadway, was moved to a new setting where they are now laid off mill workers and ergo, Buffalo, N.Y seemed the perfect place. No accents required and minimalist sets plus some pretty bright ‘back atcha lights’ (Luke Olson) that just about blind before the daylight comes in 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 kept everything in tact. Listening to the screams coming from the audience, though, one might have thought…oh well.
The play is strictly for fun and adults and yes, a little (very little) tantalizing. Although the dialogue is trite, the story too long in building to its finality and no tunes will escape your lips as you leave the theatre, New Village Arts with Manny Fernandes at the helm has pumped up the hype. By 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) is rooting for a hootenanny ending.
When Chippendale dancer, Buddy “Keno” Walsh, (Richard Johnson has some set of buns) comes to town for a one-night stand the gals go gaga. They’re in a flutter. This is how they plan to spend their ‘girls night out’ money and time.
Seeing this, Jerry Lukowski (Grant Rosen) notices that cash for the tickets doesn’t seem to be an obstacle for their wives, since they are dishing it out without a second thought. He sees easy money and comes up with the idea to put on a strip ‘n show, show of their own with his own out of work buddies in mind.
Pay attention, these are overweight, small, tall, uncoordinated, black, white, gay, self conscious, past prime time guys who need to raise enough money to help themselves out of debt in general, and in particular, for their friend Jerry who will lose custody of his son Nathan (Matthew Mohler) because of back child support. His ex wife Pam (Wendy Waddell) isn’t making it any easier by threatening to take away his visitation rights. And they are planning to bare it all? Now that takes chutzpah!
And so the saga goes with a little character building and background information on each of the key characters. The dancing lessons, rehearsals, and just plain struggle of getting everyone on board to mount this amateur show has its moments especially watching the relationship between Malcolm and Ethan (Justin Jorgensen and Scott Nickley) become a loving and accepted couple by all the guys; pretty progressive for the nineties and mill workers to boot.
Overall the entire cast has just the right look and come across as your average guys and gals struggling to make it. Grant Rosen, making his NVA debut is a rare find. He’s easy going and makes the role of Jerry seem so natural. He’s the main driving force pushing all the way to get this show up and running and does it well.
Great support comes from Michael Parrott as Dave Bukatinski the ‘big guy with the weight problem’ who, when he finally finds his voice, barks at Jerry to stop calling him fat. It’s interesting to watch the give and take between Melissa Fernandes as his wife 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 is one of the beautiful outcomes of this particular story. His character is one of the most interesting.
Roven Jay is the token Black (Noah “Horse” T. Simmons) who gives an outstanding performance in Big Black Man. No spring chicken, he manages a soft shoe as well as anyone I’ve seen in his position. Michael Jordan’s Ball that ended Act I had the male ensemble rocking it out with the help of choreographer Michel Mizerany.
The women’s ensemble is just as strong if not stronger with some great singing voices. Mentioned earlier Melissa Fernandes is a force to be reckoned with as Dave’s faithful and patient wife, Georgie. Wendy Waddell as Jerry’s wife comes across as a bitch, which is in character. Debra Wanger is on top of her game as Vicki Nichols to Paul Morgavo’s Harold Nichols, the boss who is afraid to tell his wife he’s taking less money than they can afford to live on. Both are convincing and make a great couple.
Not to be outdone by any of the adults in the company, Matthew Mohler 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, Matthew’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. He is convincing and a pleasure to watch. Keep your eye on this guy!
Veteran actress, Myra McWethy 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.
Kudos to Manny Fernandes for his excellent and sensitive direction in dealing with, yes, sensitive issues and giving them heart. Sean Fanning’s industrial looking set works just fine and musical director Justin Gray who coordinated the sound track for the show and the cast did the rest. It worked out well for all involved.
Valerie Henderson’s ninety’s frocks for the women looked right. Jeans and T-shirts standard for the guys 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. Of course.
While “The Full Monty” might be titillating to see, the characters in this show are real live ones dealing with real life situations; who and what they see themselves as, their body images and their self worth. For them, where they are in the scheme of things could have either made them or broke them. They found a way to make it work. Hats off to them…ooops!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 7th
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village, CA
Ticket Prices: $35.00-$39.00