BWW Feature: MASH NOTE TO THE FULL MONTY AND DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS at Barksdale And Virginia Rep
I love David Yazbek. He is my favorite theater songwriter. His lyrics are clever and funny, except when they are emotional and poignant. His music is witty.
I didn't know about Yazbek until I saw "The Full Monty" on Broadway in 2002. We were looking for a show to take my mother-in-law to for her birthday. I couldn't find anything I was really excited about, but I landed on "The Full Monty" as a not-too-promising choice. It had been running for over a year, but it hadn't previously tempted me.
I had seen the British movie but didn't think it would make a good musical. So I went to the theater with low expectations--probably the best way there is to go, if you want to be blown away by a show.
That's what happened to me. I was sitting way up in a balcony, but I had so much fun, I knew I wanted to go back. My kids--teenagers--were there; my mother-in-law--74 years old--was there. We all had a great time.
The kids and I started listening to the CD nonstop. We can all quote our favorite line--when Horse says, of a woman's posterior, "You could put your tchotchkes, your collectibles, on there."
The book is by the ridiculously wonderful Terrence McNally, and it adds depth and sweetness to the story of laid-off Buffalo steelworkers who decide to do a one-night striptease show to earn cash and glory. It was nominated for a bunch of Tonys but lost almost all of them (Yazbek won for best music) to a little show called "The Producers." I still think they were robbed.
I did go back a few months later, just before I moved to Richmond. I got a single, a much better seat, and loved it even more.
The Barksdale production--and let us remember that this was at Willow Lawn, with the audience right up close there on the three-sided stage--was a blast. My review said, "You haven't seen 'The Full Monty' until you've seen it on the Barksdale stage, maybe 15 feet away from the naked guys."
The production team on this was Steve Perigard directing, K Strong choreographing, and Dee Lynch as musical director, and in my book, they absolutely nailed it. Jeanie Rule, Jacquie O'Connor, Ford Flannagan and Michael Hawke all gave wonderful performances, and there were several out-of-town actors that came in and did great work in the lead roles--David Winning, Jay Lustek and Harrison White.
But that's not all the Yazbek we've seen in Richmond. In 2011 we got "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (book by Jeffrey Lane) at the then-named Empire Theatre, in a big, splashy production featuring Broadway veteran Jeff McCarthy and local favorite Scott Wichmann. By then I was such a Yazbek fan that I had made my way up to Baltimore a few years earlier to see the post-Broadway tour of this show, but it was in a big civic auditorium where you sit miles from the stage.
Virginia Rep's production, directed by Chase Kniffen with music direction by Sandy Dacus and choreography by Leslie Owens-Harrington, was hilarious. McCarthy was a swoon-worthy con man; Wichmann pulled out every physical and vocal gag in his bag of tricks; Rachel Abrams made her annual pilgrimage south to knock out the leading lady role. And Joe Pabst gave what I remember as an absolutely perfect performance as Andre, the crooked French policeman--I can't imagine anyone ever playing that role better than he played it.
As for Yazbek, he went on to write songs for "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (worth a listen but flopped on Broadway) and "The Band's Visit," which won Best Original Score at the Tonys. I saw that show and adored it. And I saw his "Tootsie" last year, which was a little disappointing. Now he's working on the musical adaptation of "The Princess Bride." I'll stay tuned.