Sunday, March 19, 2006

Full Monty (Beck Center)

‘FULL MONTY’ is fun at Beck

A woman bounds onto the stage. It’s Girls’ Night out. She introduces us to the featured attraction of the evening, the very handsome Buddy "Keno" Walsh (Rob Mayes), who is dressed in a business suit, though not for long. The buff Mayes is soon down to a yellow G-string and accepting screams and dollar bills from the women in the audience.

Thus, we are introduced to the world of ‘THE FULL MONTY,’ now on stage at the Beck Center. It’s a tale of six unemployed steel workers who, out of desperation for money and respect, form a male striptease troupe.

Written by Terrance McNally and David Yazbek, the stage musical is based on the 1977 hit British movie of the same name but moves the characters to Buffalo, N.Y. Once the shenanigans start, the only question is whether the anything-but-buff sextet will wind up doing a full monty, the British term for strippers who take it all off.

With the steel plant closed, a meeting is held at the union hall to distribute the last of the pay checks. We meet Jerry Lukowski, who is months behind in his child payments and faces the prospect of no visitations with his 12-year old son. His best friend, extremely overweight Dave Bukatinsky, now a stay-at-home husband with only a security job at Walmart as a potential way out, is also desperate. Then there is Malcolm MacGregor, who lives alone with his infirm mother. They all feel like “Scrap,” ironically the show’s first song.

Waiting at the bus stop, the guys overhear two women excitedly going into a club, paying $50 to see Keno strip. An idea hatches. If he and Dave--real men--were to strip, they could clean up. He talks four oher reluctant guys into going along with his scheme. Tickets don’t sell well, and when asked by some women why, after having seen "the real thing", they would want to see a bunch of amateur local guys strip. Jerry quickly says, much to the shock and disbelief of the guys, "We're different - we go all the way..the full monty.” The only question left for the audience is, “Will they really go all the way?”

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to reveal the answer, but I will say that at the end of the show there are six guys on stage and we learn that the full monty isn't just about showing off the outside, it's about what all of us have on the inside.

Beck’s production is amusing, even delightful in spots, but not totally polished. The cast is uneven in their acting and singing abilities.

Lenne Snively nearly steals the show as the elder pianist, whose wise-cracks add much to the goings-ons. She nails the role of Jeanettte, though after a while one would wish she’d lose the overused cigarette prop. She is matched as an audience favorite by Kris Hebble who is endearing as the very over-weight Dave. Watching Kris strip is a comedy show in and of itself.

Keith Faris (Dave) develops a clear character and when the songs he is rendering are in his pitch range he is quite good. Unfortunately, when he forces his voice, he loses the top register.

If Rob Mayes isn’t a professional Chippendale guy he should be. This boy knows how to strip, and has the looks and body to make it convincing. Patrick Janson is properly appealing as, Malcolm the mommy’s boy, who finds love unexpectedly in the form of Tim Hirzel (Ethan). The matched set are so skinny that when they turn side-ways, they disappear. They are yet another sight of the sights to behold in the final strip number.

Nicki Stacey (Georgie) and Maggie Stahl (Vicki) as two of the harried wives, sing well and develop clear characterizations. Their “You Rule My World (Reprise)” is excellent. Elliott Hooper (Horse) is delightful. His “Big Black Man” is a show-stopper.

The orchestra, under the direction of Larry Goodpaster is excellent, backing up rather than drowning out the singers.

As always, Martin Cespedes’s choreography is creative. The highlights were the moves to “Michael Jordan’s Ball.”

Song high points included, “It’s a Woman’s World,” “Big Ass Rock,” and “Jeannette’s Showbiz Number.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE FULL MONTY’ isn’t a great musical, but it is a lot of fun. If you are a prude, you might be shocked by some of the language, and the sight of some male nudity. Others should really enjoy themselves.