Big Voices Power ‘The Full Monty’
Its thin plot and serviceable music get an energetic Skylight production that punches it home.
It was an opening weekend Saturday night and the Skylight audience at the packed Cabot Theatre was eager to again cheer the big voices and musical theater they had missed during more than a year of COVID.
They were not deterred by a lighting board mishap in the second half that limited the impact of Erik Diaz’s sliding sets, eliminated the crucial lighting magic of Noele Stollmack and impacted the stylistic flurries that would have produced out of dark and light The Full Monty conclusion of hometown male strippers baring it all in choreographed bumps and grinds.
The story is one stretched joke – but hey, so are some great scripts in the right hands, like Some Like It Hot, about men forced to dress as women to escape the mob. The Full Monty is about men trying to recapture their sense of importance. Seeing how their women folk respond to the Chippendale male strippers, these six awkward out-of-work steelworkers talk themselves into a one-night bare it all.
It was a funny idea in a 1997 British film, and (this is no slouch in terms of Broadway endurance) converted into a musical that lasted 770 performances 10 years ago. It seemed cool back then to transport the out-of-work union guys, shamed by their wives now making the money, to troubled Buffalo, a city that has taken its knocks on Broadway dating back to “A Chorus Line.” (According to legend, it was Neil Simon who added the “Chorus Line” laugher “I thought of killing myself, but committing suicide in Buffalo seemed redundant.”)
New Skylight artistic director Michael Unger and actual director-choreographer James Gray, as their playbill notes suggest, clearly saw a social parallel for today’s forced isolation in the Buffalo social bonding needed for workingmen to go naked. The idea of stripping requires the men to lose their inhibitions and embrace their shortcomings. The wives have to think twice about what the men they love are willing to do to prove their manliness.
The social bonding idea might have worked except the cast doesn’t form a social whole, with scenes driven more by tricks of stage charm rather than true feelings. When the script openly asks for tears, the actors tear up too readily.
The fact that the characters are stereotypes doesn’t eliminate some humanity underneath, though the obvious triteness can become painful. The audience seemed in a mood to substitute its own sense of recognition to what the cast was playing around with or goosing for effect.
What The Full Monty does provide is the opportunity for big voices to relish the admittedly derivative but driving music. As a wife believing her husband is still truthful to her, Janet Metz grabs center stage and belts long sustained notes to bring down the house. A Skylight veteran, Karen Estrada, may have been cast for her brassy ability as a Chippendale enthusiast, but she gently shines when given a love song to play within.
Several in the cast stand out for the quality of their voices, which make much of the proceedings tolerable. There is always another singer coming along for whom we wish better material. And it’s a big cast – 20 folks in all – some who wear out their welcome quickly and some who clearly have more finesse to show.