Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: THE FULL MONTY - Still Fun After All This Time

The cast of The Full Monty. Photos by Isaac James Creative

The destination for girls’ night out in Southern California this month is definitely Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton. That’s where 3-D Theatricals’ revival of David Yazbek and Terrence McNally’s The Full Monty kicks into high gear for the next two weekends.

The lighthearted musical with a big message about believing in yourself is based on the 1997 British film of the same name, written by Simon Beaufoy and originally set in Sheffield, England. Following its stage premiere at the Old Globe in San Diego, the show opened on Broadway in the fall of 2000 and ran for 2 years and 770 performances, proving that the world was ready for a little fun.

Since then it has made the rounds of a number of local regional theaters. I’ve seen a half a dozen or so productions, from the sassy first national tour at the Ahmanson, to a terrific revival at Musical Theatre West in 2007, to a very touching intimate production in Third Street Theatre’s 99-seat house in Hollywood.

Now 3DT takes its stab at Monty with an upbeat version that many will find entertaining, but be prepared for a wide range of performance styles and varying levels of experience on stage. 

The story follows a group of laid-off down on their luck steel workers in Buffalo, NY who decide to put on a strip show to make some fast cash. Problem is, they aren’t hunks, they can’t dance, and they have no idea what they’re doing. But they need the money and with a driven Jerry Lukowski (Allen Everman) leading them, this unlikely group of ordinary guys learns you can overcome any insecurity if you want the goal bad enough.

David Engel and Janna Cardia

This is the second time I’ve seen Broadway veteran David Engel in the role of Harold (the first was in the Musical Theatre West production mentioned above) and, if anything, he gets better every time he’s on stage. As the reluctant dance instructor and the sole male among them with any dance experience he plays the situational humor with understated elegance and ends up the one to watch every time.

In that same MTW revival, Everman happened to be musical director, a role he fulfills in many productions for theatre companies in the Southland, including 3DT (Corey Hirsch is musical director here). This time around, as Jerry, he is determined and likeable, turning in a solid, if somewhat predictable, performance. Matthew Downs has built-in empathy as the overweight underdog Dave, Jerry’s best friend, and the one we’re not sure is going to get on board the full monty bus. He and Engel have the best duet of the show “You Rule My World,” a poignant yet comic number that reveals each man’s weakness and seals the audience’s investment in their dilemmas.

Yazbek’s score is bright and his lyrics are full of twists. Nowhere is that more apparent than “Big Ass Rock” a song in which Dave and Jerry contemplate methods of suicide for Malcom (Tyler Miclean) following Malcom’s feeble attempt at carbon monoxide poisoning by locking himself in his car.

Rovin Jay and the cast

The wild card in this show is always “Horse” an older black man who surprises everyone during the dance audition. Rovin Jay does the role proud pulling out his mashed potato and funky chicken fancy footwork to the screams of the audience. Candi Milo’s dry wit makes piano player Jeannette a crazy addition to the mix of characters. Representing the tough old broads of vaudeville with her cigarette and piano in tow she shows up and never leaves.

Jeanette Dawson also strikes a nice balance between rough around the edges brashness and genuine caring when it comes to her husband Dave. The rest of the ensemble women are mostly loud obnoxious types.

Jeanette Dawson and Lauren Decierdo

Lighting factors significantly into The Full Monty’s storytelling and is one of the show’s technical highlights. Jean-Yves Tessier points up the dinginess of locations like the strip club men’s room and after-hours rehearsal hall on what feels like a touring set. One particularly persistent center panel of the secenic design never stopped rocking back and forth at the Redondo Beach performance space and ended up being a distraction, as was the muffled sound. These shouldn’t be a problem once the show transfers to Plummer Auditorium this weekend.

The show has plenty of heart to balance its bawdy blue-collar sensibility and leave you feeling good as you exit the theater. On some nights, thats really all you need.
                   
THE FULL MONTY
3-D Theatricals
April 15 – 17: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center in Redondo Beach
April 22 – May 8: Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton
Tickets: www.3dtshows.com

Allen Everman

Candi Milo

Matthew Downs and David Engel

Justin Berti

The finale of The Full Monty

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