Hearty Winter Fare
PacRep’s The Full Monty satisfies theatergoers’ hunger for edgy, character-driven musical-comedy.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
For years, a clipped-out BC Sunday comic was pinned to my office wall. In the drawing, one animal character slumps against a rock saying, “I’m going to turn this experience into a book about the most tragic love story ever known.” The other character, a vulture, says, “That’s funny, she’s using the same material for a musical comedy.”
The desperation of long-term unemployment and its impact on the male psyche and on families, relationships and communities sounds like a documentary with dark footage of cavernous, shuttered mills, “For Sale” signs cluttering old neighborhoods, and probing interviews conducted in dark bars with despairing, third-generation factory workers. But PacRep’s using the same material as a musical comedy – a Terence McNally (The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, Master Class) musical comedy – with clever lyrics and intriguing musical score by David Yazbek.
The Full Monty film set in Sheffield, England, was an amusing lark a decade ago: six out-of-work steel workers desperate for cash come up with the idea to do a one-time, Chippendale-style striptease show. But the edgy McNally moves the story to Buffalo, N.Y.; etches the characters more deeply; explores their desperation and relationships more fully; tackles gender stereotypes and self-image linked to job and physical appearance credibly; and portrays the most unglamorous of commoners – out-of-work members of the working class – with pathos and dignity.
I didn’t rush to see how PacRep would handle the same material as the film. I knew they’d do it well, but the winter season brings out my appetite for meaty content rather than sweet trifles. So it was a mistake that took me to the Golden Bough Theatre when The Full Monty played its third weekend, but what a surprise to find this a satisfying sweet-and-sour dish. Just spicy enough to be inappropriate for children or very proper visitors, the production features some harmless bun baring by men whose steel-driving days are mostly, and quite evidently, a distant memory.
The opening number forces the audience to overcome any lingering Chippendale-phobia, as Georgie Bukatinsky (played with gusto by Susanne Burns) stirs up a crowd of squealing Buffalo ladies and a few audience groans as a male-mannequin of a stripper undresses while wearing a fake leering grin. We meet the effectively simple steel-themed set by John Brady (who also plays the role of Teddy) and the music of Yazbek played by a great house rock orchestra headed by guitarist Don Dally. Immediately the audience is steeped in a Girls’ Night Out frenzy.
The fellas gather, sorry-assed, to pick up their union payroll. “Scrap” is what they feel like. This first musical number introduces Jerry, the lead, played by John Farmanesh-Bocca, showing the engaging singing, dancing and acting chops that got him invited back to Carmel to reprise the role he created in PacRep’s 2006 production. Jerry’s struggle to maintain support payments to his ex, and his relationship to his son Nathan (played authoritatively by young Tyler Winnick), is the story’s driving force.
From the start, the Yazbek score is rich and edgy, requiring each character to sing some demanding but delightful contrapuntal parts and sometimes-dissonant harmonies. The Buffalo women, notably Georgie and Estelle (an assured “belt-out-the-blues” April Diaz) perform a raucous “It’s a Woman’s World,” and we begin to get the picture. All the men are unemployed and increasingly debilitated, whereas the women have jobs and are increasingly frustrated. But Jerry and his buddy Dave (a flat-footed, bulging-bellied John Rousseau, who manages to be pathetic and noble at the same time) attest to their authenticity as “beer-drinking, real-live men.”
We meet translucently pale and pudgy Malcolm (John G. Bridges) when Jerry and Dave save him from killing himself and the three set out to recruit three others to perform one night as “Hot Metal” strippers and make a pack of money. Through blackmail, they recruit Harold (Michael D. Jacobs, ubiquitous in this season’s repertory, always a significant presence), an unemployed manager whose adored free-spending wife doesn’t know his new status. Open auditions result in a parade of increasingly unlikely strippers, then Horse (James “Pete” Russell whose strong voice, acting and dancing are crucial) testifies that every woman dreams of a “Big Black Man,” and pale, skinny Ethan (Kenny Neely with a strong, sure baritone and great physical comedy) claims no talent in singing, dancing or acting but undresses to reveal certain remarkable characteristics.
Perhaps the most memorable player is Jeanette (Nancy Kocher), a hard-drinking veteran piano accompanist wearing rouged cheeks, creeping lipstick, and with a death grip on a glass of beer, whose alcohol-deepened voice is applied perfectly to a hysterical “Things Could Be Better Around Here.”
It’s a lot of fun and a surprisingly smart winter musical.