Saturday, June 27, 2009

Half Empty

The Full Monty
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbeck
Book by Terrence McNally
Directed by Mark S. Hoebee
Choreographed by Denis Jones

Starring Jason Babinsky, Jenn Colella, Joe Coots, Alex Maizus, Milton Craig Nealy, Michele Ragusa, Allen E. Read, Luke Marcus Rosen, Michael Rupert, Kelly Sullivan, Wayne Wilcox and Elaine Stritch

Performances from June 10-July 12, 2009
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive
Millburn, New Jersey

Stritch (center) and cast of
The Full Monty
(photo: Kevin Sprague)
The Full Monty, the British movie comedy about unemployed workers who decide to strip to make badly need cash, was successful enough to spawn a musical version, which premiered on Broadway during the 2000-1 season and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical. Although it lost to The Producers juggarnaut, the competition must have been lean that year, for The Full Monty is no one's idea of a classic musical comedy.

Rather, it's a bloated, three-hour self-congratulatory mess, with serviceable tunes and moon-June-spoon lyrics by David Yazbeck; a book by Terrence McNally crammed with toilet humor, dick jokes, gutter language and only a slight nod to recognizable and believable human interaction; and an extended build-up to the musical's "money shot"—when a half-dozen unemployed Buffalo steelworkers give their paying audience of rabid females what they came to see: full nudity, aka "the full monty," unlike those wimpy Chippendales dudes.

Set in a generic Buffalo—aside from a few passing menions of the NFL Bills, the only plausible Buffalo bit in the entire show is when the guys are shown drinking Labatt's Blue, and not Bud Light, as their wives do in the opening scene—The Full Monty tries to become a portrait of a caring father with a run of bad luck. But Jerry Lukowski (at least McNally knows a lot of Polish-Americans live in Buffalo!) comes across as an unlikeable jerk rather than a flawed hero, no matter how charmingly Wayne Wilcox plays him.

Normally, nitpicking a musical that only wants to please its audience would be out of line. But when, as in The Full Monty, the dialogue is so humdrum and the characters so caricatured, it's hard not to. One last complaint: no self-respecting Buffalonian—and presumed Bills fan—would choose the same night that the city's beloved NFL team is playing a home game to hold the men's striptease show. At least if a joke about husbands going to the game or watching it on TV, leaving their wives alone to see the strippers do their show, was told, it might pass muster. But that avenue's not even explored.

Enough carping. Aside from its inordinate length—songs, subplots and entire scenes should be cut, or at least trimmed—The Full Monty gets by on its good vibes, and the Paper Mill production does decently by them. The generally satisfactory cast is upended by a scene-stealing turn from Elaine Stritch, who not so much acts as she actually becomes Jeanette, the jaded show biz type who's seen (and done) it all: at least until she starts preparing the men for their "debut." Mark S. Hoebee's direction and Denis Jones' choreography are appropriately tongue-in-cheek, but even they can't prod this overlong and paper-thin show into becoming the comedic classic it desperately wants to morph into.

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