BWW Reviews: Keegan Delights Audiences with THE FULLY MONTY

By: May. 08, 2013

What would you do to provide for your family in times of financial turmoil? How far would you go? These are pertinent questions for many Americans today in this time of economic uncertainty. These questions and more are at the center of Terrence McNally (Book) and David Yazbek's (Music and Lyrics) popular contemporary musical The Full Monty, based on the film of the same name. While many audience members might be quick to associate the work - currently in production at Keegan Theatre - with a gimmick (seeing a bunch of Average Joes strip), its focus is slightly deeper than that.

This is not to suggest, of course, that the story of Jerry (Kurt Boehm) - a 30-something, down-on-his-luck, divorced Buffalo, NY factory worker turned unemployed loser at risk of losing his son Nathan (a surprisingly non-cloying child actor Max Johnson) - pursuing an alternative way to make some quick cash with some friends is a complex one. It's not. For those who fear serious issue-based dramas, I'd mention that although the themes of divorce, addiction, self-worth/perception, challenging marriages, suicide, and financial hardship are introduced into the story - and briefly explored at a micro and slightly macro level - McNally (as well as his source material) doesn't have an agenda to provide deep insights into these issues. His mission is to incorporate them into what's ultimately a heartfelt, simple story about characters that, in most all-American towns, could live right next door to us. In that regard, he's successful even if his script meanders.

Aided, by Yazbek's largely derivative though catchy music and adequate but still appropriate lyrics, McNally's book explores what happens to Jerry - and other unemployed workers like Dave (Matthew Dewberry), Malcom (John Loughney), the more educated and older Harold (Charlie Abel), Horse (Patrick Doneghy), and Ethan (Michael Innocenti) - when he learns how to bare all (literally and figuratively), take advantage of a market for such 'skills', and do right by his family (his son and his ex-wife Pam, a compelling Autumn Seavey Hicks). With some help from a caustically funny old showbiz gal, Jeanette (an appropriately scene-chewing, bold Rena Cherry Brown), he and his friends and their loved ones learn some life lessons. Even if the show is - at nearly three hours - unnecessarily way too long, it's all mildly entertaining and is nothing if not socially relevant.

At Keegan, Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea's direction allows for the more heartwarming aspects of the story to shine through. They've assembled a group of enthusiastic, seasoned and less-seasoned talent to bring the Average Joes and their significant others - dressed in socio-economic status-appropriate garb designed by Erin Nugent - to life. Relying mostly on 4Point Design Colllective's projections to establish a setting, which lead to a mixed bag of results given the lighting and other technical constraints in the Church Street Theatre, the focus is less on spectacle - although Ashleigh King's choreography is delightful - and more about presenting the decidedly human characters on a journey.

Casting wise, the production features a very solid triple-threat ensemble, which cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, although nearly all of the principal cast members give enthusiastically committed performances, the range of acting and singing skills on display extends from very, very solid to solid in both areas (with Boehm, Innocenti, and the scene-stealing Priscilla Cuellar being the most successful), to weaker in one area than another (Abel is a fine actor and mover, but struggles with pitch as does Dewberry, although to a lesser extent), to weak in both areas (Doneghy is particularly underwhelming and seemed to be marking his performance the night I attended). However, even the weakest singers and actors contribute well to the ensemble scenes, particularly a final one ("Let's Get it On").

It's hard to keep your eyes of Kurt Boehm in any scene whether he's the focus or not. Although I found some of his musical phrasing/breathing choices to be quite odd at the performance I attended, he possesses an exceedingly strong and versatile tenor voice that's particularly evident in "Man/Man Reprise" and the more ballad-like "Breeze Off the River." He's also charming, natural and relatable to boot so much so that you want to root for his character - and this is exactly what's needed for the production to be successful. Likewise, Innocenti shows off his knack for comedy as the slightly dense Ethan and also possesses a thoroughly professional voice.

Although she plays an ancillary character, the force of nature that is the newly minted Helen Hayes Award-winner Priscilla Cuellar is particularly memorable as Harold's 'not-what-she-seems' wife Vicki. Her take on one of Yazbek's stronger songs, "Life With Harold," is a showstopper - both in terms of singing and song interpretation - and most definitely not a copycat of what can be found on the original Broadway cast recording. It's easy for this role to be portrayed in a cartoon-like way, but she gives a realistic and rangy performance from start to finish showing her bombastic side in earlier scenes and ultimately revealing Vicci's inner-self in later ones.

Musician-wise, there's also a mixed bag. Although the nine piece band, under the direction of Jake Null, certainly plays Yazbek's largely peppy music with vigor, at the performance I attended the horn section stood out - and not in a good way. Overall, the musicians did not always seem to be playing together as a cohesive unit. Hopefully, that situation can improve as the players get more performances under their belts.

Overall, is this show perfect? No, but what show is? I give Keegan kudos for taking it on and it will no doubt entertain many a DC theatregoer.

Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes including an intermission.

The Full Monty plays through June 1, 2013 at the Church Street Theatre - 1742 Church Street, NW in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (703) 892-0202.

Photo: Kurt Boehm, John Loughney, and Matt Dewberry pictured; by C. Stanley Photography.


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From This Author - Jennifer Perry

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