Steel poppies

City Theater revives stripper romp
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  July 18, 2014

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MASCULINE INTUITION The Full Monty cast show us their guts (photo by Audra Hatch)

Since the steel mill closed, the men of 1989 Buffalo have been unemployed, broke, dejected, rejected, and suffering from poor body image. Divorced Jerry (Chris Austin) can’t pay his child support; Dave (Ryan Lane) has been overeating and avoiding his wife. But then Jerry flounders upon a plan that, in retrospect, is rather prescient: Long before pole dancing became such a de rigueur esteem-builder, the men’s solution to their financial ills—and, eventually, their emotional ones—is to strip. Linda Sturdivant directs a spirited and attractively appointed production of the musical The Full Monty, the Americanized version of the 1997 British film, at the historic City Theater, in Biddeford.

Karl Carrigan’s excellent set makes great use of City Theater’s tall proscenium, which allows for the towering walls of industrial grey, corrugated sheet metal, and long, rusted staircase of the mill that’s so central in the men’s identity and trauma. Elements of the old mill dominate the show’s set even in other scenes and settings—the club’s bathroom and street-front wall; various characters’ homes—that are rendered with modular set pieces on wheels. It’s a sharp visualization of the insecurity that follows Jerry, Dave, and the other men they recruit to their cause.

Jerry and Dave’s wary, hangdog gang of strippers—suicidal Malcolm (Jim Gaddis); former mill manager Harold (Jonathan Carr); near-elderly but groovin’ Horse (Thomas Smallwood); and Ethan (JP Furey), who can’t dance but has other endowments—are a game and sympathetic bunch in the hands of Sturdivant’s cast. They show both the laughable and the poignant sides of these men, nicely differentiate their modes of depression, and have a lot of fun with their bromantic banter and bonding. They also sing the heck out of the show’s wide-ranging songbook, from the buddy-song parody “Big Ass Rock” to Jerry’s clear-toned fatherhood ballad “Breeze in the Wind.” Intonation occasionally wavers, but overall the singing is solid, and often stellar. Gaddis and Furey share a soaring, clarion duet in “You Walk With Me,” and Lane and Carr nail the striking harmonies of Dave and Harold’s “You Rule My World,” about dysfunctional loves. And their men’s dancing progresses engagingly from embarrassed/embarrassing to natural and fully owned (with particularly watchable grace in Smallwood’s moves).

Missteps in the show are few, but it should be said that some of the casting stretches the credulity of certain plot points: Smallwood’s Horse doesn’t look sufficiently older than the other guys to justify their initial dismissal, though he is otherwise excellent (Horse is a particular hoot describing his ideal female derriere in “The Goods”). More problematically, Lane’s Dave isn’t overweight enough to give credence to his deep and frequently expressed insecurities. On the other hand, the slim, sculpted, and tanned Brandon O’Roak is entirely convincing as Buddy, an actual Chippendale stripper, in his cowboy boots, g-string, and assless chaps (a particularly eye-opening example of Barbara Kelly and Paul Bell’s swell costume design). O’Roak also has an entertaining blend of derision, amusement, and wary geniality as he cuts down Jerry and Dave and calls them “honey.”

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(photo by Audra Hatch)

As the women for whom the men would like to look like Buddy, Sturdivant’s female principals are super—their women are both spitfire and sensitive, and pointedly competent, in contrast to their sheepish, shuffling, defensive men. As Jerry’s ex, Pam, Rebecca Cole is marvelous; she makes a sort of rote, responsible-person role rich and dynamic. As Vicki, Harold’s wife, vivacious Sarah Thurston has delicious comic timing and a dynamite voice; and as Georgie, Dave’s suffering wife, the firecracker Ashley Christy demonstrates a beautiful balance of audacity and quiet empathy.

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