Yours truly took in a preview performance of The Full Monty last week, currently playing at the Arkansas Repertory Theater until July 1. Let me do away with any anticipation you may have and let you know, that yes, indeed, The Full Monty is delivered.
Now before all the Bible beaters start protesting. We are not talking gratuitous nudity here. No one is flopping anything in your face or putting whipped cream in place they might regret later without a thorough washing (though I dare say the "older" audience I was a part of wouldn't have minded a bit, old ladies are dirty ya'll.) No, the skin show is rather secondary to the story and the music in this adaptation of the 1997 independent film of the same title. You might remember this little gem out of England about steelworkers in Sheffield, England, who after being out of work for sometime band together, each for his own reasons, and put on a "one night only" striptease in front of their friends and neighbors to raise $50,000 (of course in England, it's pounds or quid, but the musical is in America and I'm trying not to confuse you. Look at the shiny keys.) The creators of the muiscal move the action to Buffalo, New York, but for the most part stay true to the story of the film. Interesting side note, the same writer that adapted A Man Of No Importance, which recently wrapped up it's run at The Weekend Theater (which I'm sure none of you bothered to go see, shame on you, it was in many ways superior to The Full Monty production, except in the naked man category), also adapted The Full Monty for the stage. Apparently there's a cottage industry of bringing British Independent Film to the stage, who knew?
So, the real question, how do they look? Well, if you've seen the movie, you know that these aren't factory workers who hide Men's Health cover model bodies under their flannel and jeans, they are regular dudes, and director Robert Hupp, cast just that, regular dudes who just happen to become strippers for one night. But they don't look that bad, if the reaction of the ladies in the crowd was any indication, they apparently looked, and I quote, "sexy in that, 'he could be my neighbor' way. And that is spot on for the show.
The entire cast was well selected. Brian Patrick Murphy as Keno was exactly what he supposed to be, eye candy for the ladies, he would not be your "next door neighbor" unless you possibly lived in Melrose Place. Keno's opening striptease combined with Ken White's Chippendales inspired lighting cracked my shit up (sorry about the phrasing, but they did). It was like being in the inner sanctum, I half expected women to storm the stage with dollar bills and mai tais. And please be forewarned in the first 15 minutes of the show that man shows more cheek than that stage has seen in a longtime, and I'm not talking about moxy. And apparently if I want to snag a lady around these parts, ass-less chaps, is the way to go... Peter James Zielinski and Christopher Sapienza, playing the two leads, Jerry and Dave, respectively, carried the entire show on their backs with Sapienza bearing much of the load throughout. Never too over the top or too subdued, he anchored the rest of the cast in the story and deserves much of the credit for keeping the show rolling. Zielinski, while an adequate singer, actor and "dancer" (this isn't a dancing show, the dancing is all based on these guys not being able to dance, so don't go if you are looking for ballet and jazz fusion). However, Zielinski just didn't have that spark that makes other men follow a guy. And that's what Jerry is, the leader and I just didn't see myself wanting to follow him through the end of the show. It could have been preview jitters, there were plenty of little miscues and kinks getting worked out, but what suprised me is when Zielinski is in the background or interacting with the rest of cast as part of ensemble he shines. Great instinctual mannerisms and natural swaggar that I hope the translates to the greater part of the show where he is out in front. I do give props to him dancing almost the entire show in a pair of new balance sneakers and black jeans.
Now, onto the show stealers, and maybe there's part of the problem with the lead too, there are a bunch in this show and he has to get out of their way sometimes. Most notably for me, Mr. Larry Daggett as Harold Nichols. I use "Mr." because the man has one impeccable resume', including the original Broadway cast of Ragtime as Henry Ford... geesh...wow....I hope the youngin's in the cast are soaking up what he has to teach. He was perfect. And I mean perfect. First of all, hysterical. Period. Hysterical. On more than one occassion he did something off to the side, completely within the context of the scene, that killed me, he's the one to watch, subtle stuff, great, just great. Curiously, also the one in the best shape and he has got to be one of the oldest in the cast. He's been to the Rep before, so you may have seen him, he's a pro and a joy to watch eat up the stage. The man with probably the hardest single job in the show, Ethan Paulini as Malcolm, who sings "You Walk With Me" which has become a musical theater standard that crept into mainstream protestant choir books all over, nailed it. I say hardest, because it's the song everybody knows and expects to be wonderous, and he did well with it (he's played the role before which helps). Not too much voice, not too much heartbreak, it was good, real good. Funny how people will sing that song in church now and not realize that it's both a dedication to his mother's memory and a declaration of his love for another guy. Curious, yes, curious, I bet that isn't brought up during the passing of the collection plate. Jerome Lucas Harmann as Horse and Matt Bailey as Ethan were also good with Harmann tearing up Big Black Man and Bailey making everyone cringe with his attempted wall flipping. There was one instance where I really thought he may have injured himself, but he popped right back up. I love an actor who will throw their body around for the show.
Lest I forget, what makes the REP's production of The Full Monty all the more exciting is the emphasis on using local actors and actresses for supporting, ensemble and understudy roles. Matthew Tatus' striptease as Reg Willoughby was fantastic. Seth Wyatt Kinney, who is a gifted singer, dancer and as funny as they come, should be commended also for his versatility from everything from dance school student to elderly woman (keep an eye out for his ever chaning hair as well, briliant). Craig Wilson, local lawyer and actor, was somewhat underused as Teddy Slaughter, though word on the streets is that he is understudying the lead and since he plays the lead's ex-wife's love interest may explain why he was left out of some of the ensemble numbers. And on the night I saw the show, Rep newcomer Joseph Scott played the son, Nathan, and looked like a seasoned veteran.
Oh, by the way, there are women in the show, did I mention that, there are, and they might just give these boys a run for their money while keeping their clothes on. While all the women were fantastic and dang, can they sang, my favorite performances came from SuEllen Estey (you have got to love that name) as Jeanette, the accompianist "that just showed up, piano and everything" to the stripper auditions. What a great character piece. She was bawdy, kooky and just crazy enough to wonder what she was like back in her cabaret days. Unfortunately, her big number, aptly titled "Jeanette's Show Biz Number" fell a little flat, and I think mostly because it was staged like an episode of romper room. People just running around with no real reason. I would have put the ensemble around her and let her have at it, but that's me, Monday morning choreographing....
Two local ladies, Lacy Dunn and Shannon Lamb, worked it out! Dunn, who stepped up during the King and I when the lead took ill, was an especially bright light in the chorus and should have a promising career on the stage ahead of her. Oh, I almost forgot, Angela C. Howell, as Harold's high maintenance wife was wonderful and definitely gets the wardrobe award for the best in "80's" attire, wow, who knew purple was that popular back then.
Mike Nichols employs a functional set design that gives a very industrial feel to the entire show. Floating set pieces are whisked on an off by a talent stage crew that I would have liked to have seen have a little more personality since they aren't in much of a blackout. Many scene changes are "covered" with the characters doing some activiy, dancing, etc. in line with their characters and usually alluding to the approaching scene. Some were good, others were....well...you can always look through your program during them.
So, overall, I say the REP has a hit on their hands. I don't know if they would have a hit without the promise of naked men at the end, but they would still have a very good show. I expect the run to sell out if central Arkansans realize 1) it's not a strip show, it's done in the context of the story 2) you get a glimpse, if that and it's silouhette mostly, though you know their out there in their birthday suits and 3) that the Lord is not going to smite the Earth over any of it. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that no one walked out during the show and all the older people in the lobby I heard talking about the show loved it and were eager to spread the word. I'm just a little afraid some of those nice, little, old ladies, might get too worked up and have an episode. Let's hope The Full Monty doesn't get too hot to handle.
Cheers to The Full Monty cast, you sirs, are rockstars in Little Rock... at least through July 1!
And on an insider's note, word is the out-of-town cast members are loving it here in the natural state, lower price's, decent weather and good ole' Southern hospitality seem to have won them over. I wish them many happy returns, who knows, maybe Central Arkansas will become the theater mecca of the South!..... we can dream can't we....
Confidentially hoping you will also check out Working (The Musical) at The Weekend Theater opening this weekend, I remain, Mr. Rickey.
Hit a brotha up:caconfidential(a)gmail.com (see, I'm keeping the bots from getting my virtual digits, I'm crafty like that, okay?)