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BWW Review: THE FULL MONTY at Bay Area Musicals Lets It Go with Humor & Heart

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BWW Review: THE FULL MONTY at Bay Area Musicals Lets It Go with Humor & Heart
The guys rehearse their big number in "The Full Monty" at Bay Area Musicals
Clockwise from top - Jackson Thea, CHRIS PLANK, Albert Hodge, Arthur Scappaticci & Stephen Kanaski

"The Full Monty" in its stage musical incarnation is certainly a curious show. While largely a raucous comedy, it also touches on a host of seriously unfunny issues, including economic disparity, body image, parental rights, homophobia and suicide. The script contains countless f-bombs and much sexual innuendo, yet its central relationship is a rather sweet one between a dad and his adolescent son. And, of course, it all culminates in a big striptease that needs to be kinda sexy without going to the icky place. It's a tricky balance to pull off, but if done correctly the show has a lot of charm and heart, and the Bay Area Musicals production largely gets it right.

BWW Review: THE FULL MONTY at Bay Area Musicals Lets It Go with Humor & Heart
Christopher Apy (L) & James Schott (R) as Nathan & his dad Jerry

The stage version hews closely to the popular 1997 film with the exception of transferring the action from an economically depressed Sheffield, England to an equally depressed Buffalo, New York. Six unemployed steel workers form an unlikely male stripper act in an attempt to earn some desperately needed money, and for the recently-divorced central character to be able to maintain joint custody of his son. Terrence McNally's book and David Yazbeck's score finds opportunities for mordant humor and pathos in unlikely places, such as when one character is discovered in an unsuccessful suicide attempt it leads to a blackly comic song called "Big Ass-Rock" about how a true friend would have helped ensure a more successful method of suicide. Or when Harold & Dave duet on the plaintive "You Rule My World" with the former addressing his adored wife, the latter his over-sized stomach. The show's most genuinely touching moment occurs when Malcom unexpectedly finds a romantic partner at his mother's funeral. It is conveyed without words and needs none, which shows the economy of McNally's script at its best.

As per usual with Bay Area Musicals productions, the cast is directed with a welcome consistency of tone, in this instance by director & choreographer Leslie Waggoner. While I would have liked more individuality and nuance among the numerous smaller roles, particularly among the women, everyone here is on the same page. It is also a pleasure to see a show cast with a diversity of physical types and ethnicities.

BWW Review: THE FULL MONTY at Bay Area Musicals Lets It Go with Humor & Heart
(L to R) Christopher Apy, CHRIS PLANK, Jackson Thea & Adrienne Hero
in Bay Area Musicals "The Full Monty"

James Schott as central character Jerry gives a solid performance and is refreshingly believable as a regular guy who happens to find himself in desperate circumstances. This gives his gradual transformation unemployed loser to reluctant stripper all the more emotional heft. Schott's vocals can be a bit strained when called on to riff or hit a big final note, but there is a core credibility to his performance that is key to setting the tone for the show. CHRIS PLANK as Dave gives another grounded performance, and what a kick it is to see a truly heavyset man onstage instead of someone who's merely a little stocky. Michelle Ianiro is somewhat miscast in the no-fail role of Jeanette, the rehearsal pianist, as she comes across as too young and vibrant to be the world-weary, old as dirt showbiz vet the role calls for. Bay Area theater mainstay Adrienne Herro turns in a well-sung and nicely nuanced performance as material girl Vicki, who shows surprising depth as the story unfolds. Albert Hodge is warmly funny and busts out some sensuous dance moves as the unfortunately named Horse. The most successful performance is given by Jackson Thea as sad sack Malcom. He totally nails the desperation and sweetness of his character and shows off a lovely lyric tenor in the very moving funeral scene.

BWW Review: THE FULL MONTY at Bay Area Musicals Lets It Go with Humor & Heart
Albert Hodge (center) as Horse revels brings down the house in "Big Black Man"
as Jerry (James Schott), Nathan (Christopher Apy) & Harold (Arthur Scappaticci) look on

The design work is generally successful as well. This show presents a challenge since it takes place in a wide variety of indoor and outdoor locations, none of which naturally suggests beautiful imagery or visual interest. (I mean, how exactly do you make a dive bar restroom look attractive?) Scenic designer Matthew McCoy has come up with the effective solution of a brick-walled enclosure that can read as in- our outdoors, and includes some high arched windows that are lit in a variety of ways to add some much-needed color to the stage picture. Eric Johnson's lighting never calls attention to itself, which feels just right in these working-class settings. Brooke Jennings' costumes are all appropriate if hardly flattering (these characters are not fashion plates!), with the notable exception of a rehearsal scene where she dresses all six men in almost identically proportioned boxer shorts. This is a missed opportunity since underwear is such a personal choice and a wider variety of undergarments would help convey who each of these men is and how he feels about his own body.

BWW Review: THE FULL MONTY at Bay Area Musicals Lets It Go with Humor & Heart
The guys finally let it go
(L to R) Jackson Thea, Stephen Kanaski, CHRIS PLANK, James Schott, Arthur Scappaticci & Albert Hodge

Of course, any version of "The Full Monty" comes down to the inevitable final strip number. In this case, it's performed to the song "Let It Go" - (decidedly NOT that inescapable anthem from "Frozen"!) - with appropriately insinuating lyrics that take the men from deer-in-the-headlights stiffness to sexy dudes of all body types just lettin' it go and discovering their own power in doing so. None of them would likely be considered centerfold material, and thank god for that! But - they can still be damn sexy. And that's the whole point.

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio

Bay Area Musicals' production of "The Full Monty" runs through March 15th at the Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St., San Francisco, CA. Tickets and further information are available at www.bamsf.org/the-full-monty or by calling 415-340-2207.


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