Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Third Street Theatre Lives it Up with The Full Monty

Chip Phillips, Harrison White, Ryan O'Connor, Justin Michael Wilcox, Morgan 
Reynolds and Will Collyer. Photos by Richard Hellstern

When the right person says the right thing at the right time, it can make all the difference in the world. In The Fully Monty, 12-year old Nathan (Owen Teague) earnestly says to his father in the Act II moment of truth, "This time don't be what everyone thinks you are, a loser.” His belief in his dad is the final kick in the pants that propels Jerry Lukowski (Will Collyer) out on stage with his buddies for their pièce de résistance: a striptease that ends in…well, the title says it all. And for that one shining moment all their embarrassment, self-doubt and disappointment gives way to thunderous applause and a joyous celebration of underdogs everywhere. 

The Full Monty is Third Street Theatre’s follow-up to Falsettos, which was also directed by Richard Israel to great success last fall. This time around he delivers an exuberant, cheeky, and often touching production that has as many sweet moments as it does flash and sass. 

The David Yazbek/Terrence McNally musical is based on the 1997 British film of the same name and was first staged at the Old Globe in San Diego before making its way to Broadway. It follows a group of unemployed Buffalo, NY steelworkers who come up with an outlandish idea to put on a one-night only Chippendale-style strip show to raise the big money each one desperately needs. Trouble is, none of them even knows how to dance, let alone has the abs or the confidence to bare it all like the professionals. But hey, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Enter choreographer John Todd, who puts these everyday Joes through some highly entertaining macho moves. One of his best creations is “Scrap,” which finds a fed-up Jerry and his friends at the union house picking up their measly unemployment checks. Todd’s choreography has them slamming and throwing chairs with driving intensity and an impressive precision that emphasizes Yazbek’s dissonant harmonies. Another standout is “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” an intricately choreographed air basketball routine that, although not quite as sharply performed as the opening number, never lets up on the testosterone as the men jump, pass, dribble, body slam and ‘get ready to rumba!’ 

Collyer has moved decidedly into the leading man category with his performance of Jerry. You expect that he’ll bring the frustration, persuasiveness and charisma that the role requires but what you may not expect is how he’s grown as a singer. He’s developed a self-assurance vocally that finds him able to effortlessly float a falsetto high B after belting like a rocker for the previous hour and a half. Musical director Johanna Kent makes the most of it, also bringing out the best in a cast with varied vocal abilities. Sheiva Khalily’s B&W video streaming of Kent and her backstage orchestra during the overture gives the production a cool Saturday Night Live edge.

Morgan Reynolds (Malcom) may describe himself as a compete loser who still lives at home with his mother, but the shy loner is also sincerely in need of some friends. Reynolds is charming and funny, and once he and fellow dancer Ethan (a terrific Justin Michael Wilcox) realize they share a love of The Sound of Music, the world suddenly finds a place for these two goodhearted misfits. I dare you not to tear up during their duet, “You Walk With Me.”

Ryan O’Connor, as Dave Bukatinsky, also has a poignant duet with his wife, Georgie (Erin Bennett) that will restore your faith in relationships and Jan Sheldrick lands all the right deadpan zingers as the been-there-done-that-and-seen-it-all pianist, Jeannette. Veteran actor Harrison White plays Noah (nicknamed Horse), who comes in all stern and sour to Jerry’s auditions saying they let him go at the McDonald’s because he wasn’t cheerful enough – go figure –  but proves he’s got the goods in his showstopping bump-and-grind number “Big Black Man.” His break dancing days may be over but White can still do a mean funky chicken, monkey, mashed potato, and even has a few Michael Jackson Thriller moves on standby for good measure.

Also lending solid support are Chip Phillips as Harold, the doting husband who can’t deny his wife Vicki (Wendy Rosoff) anything, even though he’s also been out of work for six months, Shannon Warne as Jerry’s pragmatic ex-wife, and handsome Todd Stroik as the smart-aleck stripper who starts the show off with a g-string flashing unforgettable routine. [Pictured: Sydney Blair, Erin Bennett (above), Nikki Jenkins (below), and Suzan Solomon]

There were a few distractions opening night with scene changes that bogged down but those will inevitably fall into place with repetition. More distracting for me was some of the women's costumes that looked like they would have been more at home in Jersey than in Buffalo.

The show may still be working to polish some of its rough edges but ultimately it really doesn't matter. The Full Monty is about owning your imperfections, overcoming your fears, and allowing yourself to stay in the game. That these regular guys can do all that, while taking it all off and still having a blast means you will too.  

The Full Monty, Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third Street, W. Hollywood, CA 90048. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through October 14. Now extended through October 28! Ticket prices are $28 - $34. For tickets please visit www.showclix.com/events/9966 or call 1.888.71.TICKETS.

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