BWW Review: Go All the Way with THE FULL MONTY at the Carrollwood Players
"Hey, hey, whaddaya say? Buffalo Men go all the way!" --a chant from THE FULL MONTY
THE FULL MONTY at the Carrollwood Players has something for most everyone: Fun music, edgy lyrics, a lively cast, one or two brilliant performances and six brave naked men. It's a fast-paced show, full of life, that is so enjoyable that we forgive any messiness or performance moments that are not up to snuff.
With the score by David Yazbek and book by Terrence McNally, THE FULL MONTY is a hoot with a plot as thin as a slice of prosciutto: An unemployed blue-collar worker from Buffalo, Jerry Lukowski, along with his friends of varying physiques need money, so they decide to perform at a ladies club where they will provocatively dance in the buff (or "the full monty") to a roomful of adoring, screaming, paying women.
Heading the cast is one of the more talented leading men in our area, Ryan Bintz. I have seen Bintz onstage before, most notably as an astounding Marius in an otherwise not-very-good production of Les Miserables at Stage West. His singing voice is always commanding. As Jerry Lukowski, he has to run the emotional gamut, and he does so with much success. Best of all is the way he interacts with his son, played affectionately and adorably by Seth Diamond-Black. Their connection is the heart and soul of the show. You really feel the father-son bond here, especially in Jerry's moving song, "Breeze Off the River." My only quibble with Bintz is that he sometimes tries too hard, at times forcing the energy onstage instead of just letting it happen and being real. But he's the perfect touchstone that this production needs, and you can't imagine it without him.
My award for Best in Cast goes to the stupendous Topher Warren as Horse, whose "Big Black Man" is a showstopper to end all showstoppers. Warren has been in many productions I have seen locally--from Spring Awakening to La Cage Aux Folles--and he always adds so much heart and verve, a perfect combination. Just as strong is the pianist Jeanette, played endearingly and bawdily by Ann K. Lehman. Her "Jeanette's Showbiz Number" is a real standout.
Thomas Pahl is quite likable as Lukowski's meaty friend, Dave Bukatinsky. It's a long way from his Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar, which I saw earlier in the year. Here, he plays the bigger-than-life compadre who becomes an audience favorite. Zach "Hippie" Griswold's lack of self-consciousness serves the role of Buddy "Keno" Walsh well; he even gyrates a memorable strip tease in gold lame' underwear that causes delighted tittering from the audience.
Drew Eberhard and James Dillard are fine as Malcolm and Ethan. Eberhard gets a chance to jolt several of his scenes to life. And Dillard gets a hilarious moment or two (or three) every time he tries (and joyfully fails) to recreate Donald O'Connor's wall-flip in the "Make Em Laugh" sequence from Singin' in the Rain.
Dawn Clark Dougherty is marvelously over the top as Georgie Bukatinsky. Michael Schreiner is lots of fun as Harold Nichols. Ronni Moses, as Jerry's wife, has her moments, but she needs more pizzazz, more zest on the stage, so that we can see what Jerry is missing. Michael Jeffery provides one of the most memorable moments of the show near the end of Act 1 (don't ask). And Belle Austin, Megan Dart, Catherine Harp, Rokki James, Chris McDermott, Marybeth Wells, and Frank Weiss (in an awful mop top toupee) give ample support. Mary Kay Cyrus is a scene-stealer as Drunk Dolores; she's so much fun in this small role that you wonder what her backstory is.
Jim Russell's direction is taut, and the show moves at a wonderfully efficient pace. The set matches that efficiency; it's simple, with rundown brick walls, and gets the job done. Theresa Colado's choreography is minimal but messy. But the final moment--THE FULL MONTY'S full Monty--is handled quite deftly. Expect a prolonged glance at several shimmying full moons when you attend.
The show is far from perfect, with some of the background vocals all over the place. Lynn Cammarei's music direction is hit or miss. The music is canned, which is never ideal; we miss the energy, the excitement, that a live orchestra ultimately provides (even if it's just a single piano).
When I saw the show on a Sunday matinee, the audience consisted of many senior citizens, the women in particular leaning in for a gander at the titular moment that they had come to bear witness. At one point, a character comments, "Senior Citizens make great audiences..." When that line was spoken, the audience burst into applause worthy of a low rent remake of Magic Mike XXL.
THE FULL MONTY plays until October 1st.