What a delight. The musical version of The Full Monty, playing at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston, comes across as bawdy and hilarious as intended in this version by Center Stage Productions (through July 27).
With a book by four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!) and music and lyrics by David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), it’s based on their 2000 film, which in turn was based on the British film comedy that was popular three years earlier.
There is plenty of mileage in the premise, which has six unemployed steelworkers go for a one-night cash windfall. Amazed that their wives are forking over $50 a show for a Chippendale striptease act that’s come to Buffalo, these guys — who range from ordinary-looking to overweight — figure they can outdo the professional pretty boys by peeling all the way to their birthday suits — going the Full Monty, as the expression puts it.
That’s not enough of a last-scene payoff to carry a two-hour-plus show, especially since the nudity is always obscured by bright lights or blackout. But director/choreographer Russell M. Maitland, who also joins the cast, has brought in a couple of seasoned actors for the two main roles, and he backs them up brightly with local talent.
Joey Elrose is Jerry Lukowski, the one who comes up with the idea for the strip show, and he plays him like Jerry’s life is at stake. Jerry is too proud to take one of the security guard jobs available at the mall, even though the plant has been closed for 18 months, but he has to raise some child support money or he’ll lose visitation rights to his 12-year-old son Nathan (Sean Fay Wolfe).
The second tentpole in this production is Michael Johnson’s engaging performance as Dave Bukatinsky, Jerry’s wisecracking pal, who is overweight enough for the prospect of him appearing in the buff to be additionally comical. Offsetting, that is, Dave being so self-conscious about his weight in private that he’s given up on having a sex life, despite the gentle urging of his wife Georgia (Jill Jones), who had organized the Chippendale night.
The other men who end up in the show are mama’s-boy Malcolm (Preston Lawhorne), biker Ethan (Don Martone), older black guy Horse (Alex Valentine), and a former executive at the plant, Harold (Maitland), whose ballroom dancing expertise gets him recruited as their choreographer. Several of the voices here are very good, especially those of the two male leads. A pleasant vocal surprise in the second act is when meek Malcolm, whom Lawhorne has given an odd, slightly nasal voice, relaxes at a funeral and sings quite beautifully, as the actor moves us with “You Walk With Me.”
The songs make the musical even more satisfying than the original British comedy, aided here by a four-piece band led by Tommy Iafrate. Early on, the tone is set with “Scrap,” as the men tell how it feels to be out of work. For a show that can be lighthearted, it gets darkly real, with such lines as: “Roll another joint, then lunch, then a beer/Then sitting like an ape on the sofa/With a hanky and the same old porno tape.” Soon after that comes “Big Ass Rock,” as Jerry and Dave interrupt Malcolm’s suicide, sardonically singing that they’ll help him, if he wants: “I got some quality rope/Made for a man who’s devoid of hope/Like you are, my buddy.”