BWW Reviews: Allenberry Gives Audiences THE FULL MONTY
Once upon a time - back in 1997 - there was a little movie called "The Full Monty" that no one expected to take off like a rocket. But it did, and somehow Peter Cattaneo's story of six unemployEd English steelworkers who thought they could make money as male strippers became an international hit. As is the way of the entertainment world, movies become plays and plays become movies, but rarely is a movie transformed by the likes of Terrence McNally. His book, and the score by David Yazbek premiered in San Diego in 2000, and went straight on to Broadway with a little assistance by people like Jerry Mitchell choreographing it and Andre deShields ("The Wiz" himself) starring in it.
Now THE FULL MONTY is at Allenberry Playhouse, directed by Artistic Director Roque Berlanga, and being presented in repertory with Happy Days. If you can only make one of these two shows, definitely make it THE FULL MONTY. Don't let the idea that the show has strippers in it deter you, nor the oft-cited canard that the show is crude; it simply isn't. It has adult themes, and it has strong language at times, and there are a few brief moments of men in thongs - but if it is crude, so is GYPSY on the one hand, and so is NEXT TO NORMAL on the other. Take that into consideration before avoiding it for fear of offense. Unless you cannot handle any rough language in context - and these men are Buffalo, New York steelworkers, not elderly clergymen - you will reap more reward from seeing the show than from protecting your ears from possible offense. (On the other hand, unless you're prepared to explain, leave the smaller children at home, as well as the ones old enough to laugh uncontrollably when confronted with issues relating to sex.)
Berlanga has given this production some fine pacing and movement, and Jason Bolen has given it some of the best sets so far this season at Allenberry. Musical director William Asher and the pit orchestra also deserve kudos for some excellent instrumental work for the show. But it's the cast that makes this show, and Berlanga has intelligently brought the story a cast of non-"lookers", actors whose acting is excellent and whose shirtless frames will win no awards - with the exception of Patrick Detloff, who plays Keno, the Chippendale dancer whose success instigates the storyline as steelworker Jerry (Todd Zehrer) decides that the money the dancers bring in could help pay his long overdue child supporT. Ryan Roets plays his best friend George in a particularly nice turn; we can not only see but feel his fears about work, his fears of inadequacy about his girth, and his equal fears of sexual inadequacy as his wife Georgie (an amusing and sympathetic Anya Fetcher) runs off to see the male dancers at the bar.
Robert Gadpaille and Dawn Trautman, underused in Happy Days as the Cunninghams, play the fully realized Harold and Vicki Nichols - he an unemployed factory executive who's attempted to hide his job loss from his wife, she a housewife who seems to live to spend money, but whose greatest concern is her husband, if only he'd let himself get past his belief he needs to buy her in order to keep her. Gadpaille has a very fine singing voice that's hidden in the other show, and Trautman switches masterfully between comic and serious moments as she reveals her true colors to her husband. It's a pleasure to see actors like these, who are always so "on" when they are on stage, given roles they can sink their teeth into.
Michael C. Brown as Malcolm MacGregor, the pigeonchested wonder, and Calvin David Malone as the brainless (but blessed with extra size elsewhere) Ethan Girard, bring sweetness as well as comedy into their roles, especially at Malcolm's mother's funeral - although Brown's number with Zehrer and Roets when Malcolm is rescued from a suicide attempt early on is possibly the single funniest moment of the show as well as one of the most unusual tributes ever penned to friendship. Casey Weems plays Jerry's ex-wife, Pam, with the maturity needed for such a part; although she wants her child support money and she's willing to go to court to get it, Pam isn't evil; she sincerely wants her ex-husband to develop a relationship with his son, Nathan, that's been lacking for some time, and Weems makes that conflict believable. John Davis as Nathan has no difficulty conveying the pains of a child who desperately wants to be proud of his father for accomplishing something, even if it's having a successful strip act rather than a full-time job.
Although the music from the show is, by and large, not well-known despite its success, you'll very likely discover that you are familiar one of the songs, "Breeze Off The River," which most people have heard but few realize is from a show. Zehrer's moment with his son when he sings it is one of the most powerful scenes in the show.
Is there actual nudity in the show? The answer is... you'll need to see it for yourself to understand why you'll never be quite sure if there is. Does it matter? The show isn't about that anyway. It's about heart - and it has that in mass quantities.
At Allenberry through July 7. Call 717-258-3211 or visit www.allenberry.com for tickets.
Photo Credits: MDT Photography