Sunday, March 30, 2003

Full Monty (Playhouse Square Center)

'FULLY MONTY' full of fun at the Palace

I was fortunate enough on opening night of ‘THE FULL MONTY, now on stage at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square, to have seats in the third row. Bonnie, a female friend, came running down the aisle after she saw where I was sitting and asked if I’d be willing to change seats. She wanted to be up front, “as close as possible.”

Since it opened in October, 2000, there have been two main questions asked about this Tony nominated musical. Question 1 is “do the actors really strip naked at the end of the show?” The answer is “yes.” But, if your main reason for attending the show is to see male nudity, you’d be better off spending your money at one of the local male strip joints because you aren’t going to see much physical equipment in this production. As the men remove their g-strings, blinding lights glare into the eyes of the audience and a blackout quickly follows. Sorry Bonnie!

The second question is, “Where does the title come from?” Legend has it that it is a British expression meaning “to take to the fullest extent.” And stripping before 2000 or so audience members is the full extent.

The basic story line centers on Jerry and his five Buffalo, New York buddies.. Jerry is a great Dad. But he's unemployed, broke and divorced. If he doesn't get enough money together soon to pay support, he’ll be unable to see his son. Jerry and five equally desperate out-of-work friends embark on an unexpected and revealing journey in which they plan to make money in a show in which they will do the “full monty.” Of course, complications set in and the audience is the recipient of the fun.

Jack O’Brien’s musical comedy version of the biggest ever box office grossing British movie retains the heart and soul of the film without attempting to copy it. Terrence McNally’s adaptation is very funny and engenders lots of pathos. David Yazbek’s score maps the character-based comedy with some stand out numbers, especially “Breeze Off The River,” a beautiful ballad, the moving “You Walk With Me” and the gorgeous “You Rule My World.”

The touring production is top notch. The acting and singing are wonderful. So great that the ensemble stands together and no single performance stands out. That’s a triubute to good acting and fine directing. The sets are a little chintzy, but it matters little. You will smile, you will laugh, you will’ll enjoy yourself immensely. This is what good musical theatre is all about.

Capsule judgement: ‘THE FULL MONTY’ is a slick celebration the resilience of the human spirit. You’ll be on your feet at the end cheering and feeling good all the way home.