BWW Reviews: THE FULL MONTY Builds to a Crescendo of Laughter and Heart
The Full Monty, which opened Maine State Music Theatre's fifty-seventh season, has all the makings of a new hit for the company! The rollicking, sometimes raucous story of unemployed Buffalo steel workers who create a male strip act to make money has characters to embrace and identify with, clever and provocative dance numbers, music which underscores advances the dramatic development of the script, and one of the most anticipated final numbers in all of Broadway musicals. In addition, at MSMT in a shared production with Lancaster's Fulton Theatre, the David Yazbek -Terrence McNally show is blessed with a stunning ensemble and witty, heartfelt direction and choreography by Donna Drake.
Drake does a brilliant job of creating riotously funny dances for her awkward set of blue-collar heroes, these contrasted to the idiomatic strip tease numbers for the opening club scene, or to the graceful, rhythmically intricate "Michael Jordan's Ball," and her handling of the show-stopping final number, "Let It Go," justifies the anticipation. Moreover, she fleshes out the heart and genuine emotion in Terrence McNally's somewhat skeletal book and balances moments of wistful introspection and tenderness with robust, raunchy humor.
Music Director Aaron McAllister leads the eight-person pit band with brio in a score that is less about tuneful melody and more about characterful expression. The spare, but effective set by Robert Klingelhoefer, assisted by Katelin Walsko's prop design, evokes the gray grimness of the Buffalo mill and through a series of rapidly gliding carts effects the changes to other locales - all without interrupting the flow of the action. Anthony Lascoskie, Jr. provides the colorful contemporary costumes, while Annemarie Duggan's lighting design captures the somber mill atmosphere, the warmth of the domestic scenes, and the glitz of the strip club, and her solution to "Let It Go" helps make the daring impact of that climactic number. Brett Rothstein creates a well-balanced sound scape.
The Full Monty is very much an ensemble show whose message and method require teamwork and rapport. At the story's core are the six steelworker-strippers, whose zany adventure brings them so many more rewards than the monetary ones of which they dreamed. Agile in voice and dance, Peter Matthew Smith plays Jerry Lukowski with an appealing nonchalance and "guy next door" charm, and he gives the character depth in his obvious feelings for his ex-wife, his son, and his best friend. Jayson Elliott makes his overweight pal, Dave Bukatinsky, a loveable teddy bear of an overgrown boy and he uses his clear tenor with touching sweetness in "You Rule My World." Kingsley Leggs brings a strong vocal and dramatic presence to "Horse" Simmons, and he delights in his audition dance number "Big Black Man." As Harold Nichols, Jonathan Rayson displays a strong lyric voice and graceful dance presence, and makes the former company boss a sympathetic, vulnerable character. Chuck Ragsdale brings a gentle intensity to the role of Malcolm, the dim, mother-fixated security guard who finds love in the person of a fellow stripper, Ethan Girard, played with deft humor by Michael J. Austin. Malcolm's Act II number, "You Walk with Me," in which he and Ethan declare their love is poignantly sung.
Among the contingent of ladies, Amanda Rose makes the most of the small, but crucial role of Pam Lukowski, Jerry's disappointed ex-wife; she suggests both the character's toughness and inner sensitivity, her lost hopes and her perhaps as-not-yet-extinguished torch. Charis Leos makes a bold, brassy, yet endearing Georgie Bukatinsky, compassionate and loving - a woman who has not lost her sense of humor throughout all the recent trials, and, as always, she lights up the stage when she sings and dances. Laurie Wells provides a delightful contrast as the yuppie social matron Vicki Nichols, who has to face the newfound economic realities of her husband's job loss. And Sandy Rosenberg has some show-stopping moments as the aging, tough-talking pianist, Jeannette Burmeister.
In the fine supporting cast, young Austin Nedrow plays Jerry's son Nathan with disarming wisdom and warmth; Seth Danner is an outrageously funny, sexy, athletic male stripper; David Girolomo endows the union steward, Reg Willoughby, with kindness and understated humor, and his disastrously awkward audition number is a show highlight. Mark Merritt is a zesty Tony Giordano; Jonathan Grunert is appropriately earnest as Teddy, Pam's current boyfriend; Jillian Jarrett; Cary Michele Miller, and Megan Elyse Fulmer round out the cast as a trio of local women out to prove "It's a Woman's World;" while Jordan Ross Weinhold and Brian Maurice Kinnard deliver well-etched cameos.
MSMT has dubbed 2015 its "season of smiles," and indeed, their production of the The Full Monty will make the audience smile. But it will do much more than that. As the evening unfolds with its endearing, zany, sympathetic story and identifiably loveable characters, those smiles will build to a crescendo of laughter - big, hearty, warm, laughter coupled with genuine feel-good emotion. It's an experience not to be missed!
Photos COurtesy Maine State Music Theatre, Urdaneta Photography
THE FULL MONTY runs from June 3 - June 20, 2015, at the Pickard Theatre, Brunswick, ME 207-725-8769 www.msmt.org