BWW Reviews: THE FULL MONTY Lifts the Spirits at Mesa Encore Theatre
Men of steel, stripped of their power, can regain their mettle when they dare to drop their fears and self-doubt. The Full Monty affirms this truth and reveals more than bare bottoms in Mesa Encore Theatre's final production of its 76th season. Director Chris Hamby, despite some technical glitches that should be easily fixed and some inconsistent casting that can't, captures both the heart and humor of a story that has as much relevance today as when it premiered in 2000.
The pain and despair of unemployment and wage inequality are as severe, if not moreso, today than then. Buffalo's steel mills are closed. Their rust has infected the spirits of once-proud mill workers like Jerry Lukowski and Dave Bukatinski, while their ladies, in contrast, are out on the town, enjoying the Chippendales!
The Full Monty seizes on the dilemmas that taunt these guys: What happens to a man's sense of self when he loses everything that defines him, when he can no longer bring home the bacon, when he's lost the respect of a wife or a son? What's the path to recovery and redemption?
When Jerry and Dave realize that they're at risk of losing more than their jobs, they kick into action and concoct a plan to put on a strip show of their own, cash in on the proceeds, and square away their problems.
This show belongs to the men!
Andrew Lipman radiates a range of emotions as Dave, from beginning to rear end. He swings effortlessly from self-doubt to bewilderment to boldness ~ as he beats himself up for being overweight, when he sings to the food in his fridge ("You Rule My World"), and when he tries to balance his loyalties to his wife and his cohorts.
Damon Bolling's Jerry matches Lipman's energy as he paces through the stage, seeking to win the respect of his son, a loan from his ex-wife, and the solidarity of his strip troupe. His interaction with his son Nathan (Aaron Zweiback), however, needs to pack more emotion to be credible.
Michael Leeth ("Horse"Simmons) commands the stage when he shapeshifts from an apparently arthritic and defeated auditioner to a hot shot hoofer ("Big Black Man").
Julian Peña (Harold Nichols), Jonathan Holdsworth (Ethan Girard), and Chad Campbell round out the troupe, aptly named Hot Metal.
Jesse Ochoa merits a special shoutout for heating up the stage as male stripper Keno Walsh. He slithers and slides and shows the boys exactly what they're up against if they presume to mount their own act.
But it is Chad Campbell as Malcolm MacGregor, who delivers the knockout performance of the show. He is nothing short of hilarious as a goofy and lonely security guard, poignant as a devoted son tied to his mother's apron strings, and inspiring when he finds love at last ("You Walk With Me"). It's a tour de force performance by an actor with a great voice and a grand comic sensibility.
Yes, the show belongs to the men, but there are some noteworthy performances by the women. Lizz Reeves Fidler's pipes have power and range ("Life With Harold"). Barbara McBain is brilliant as the stage-savvy, sassy, and brassy piano accompanist Jeanette Burmeister, and her "Showbiz Number" is a reminder to the boys about just how bad things can get if they don't get over their problems with the timing, the groove, and the lethargy.
The show runs through June 15th at the Mesa Arts Center.
By the way, part of the experience of the theatre is the getting there and the meal on the way. On the latter score, you'll want to beat your path to República Empanada, just a couple of blocks from the Center on East 1st Avenue. This is top value for the price and as delectable a meal as you'll find in a bright and welcoming venue! Wheat flour empanadas with combinations of fillings that will knock your socks off!
Photo Credit: Fountain Hills Theater/Handout)