First, let’s get the most important artistic consideration out of the way: Just how much dick can you see during the climax of The Full Monty? Sadly, opening night’s strip tease was inconclusive on this crucial point; one suspects that some coy legerdemain with policemen’s caps was intended to put the kibosh on our ethnographic study of South Texan sausage. Fortunately, a deliciously timed thong-based disaster revealed at least one actor’s lush, nearly primeval, forest of pubic hair, quickly superseded by a man-cheek flapping unfettered by conventional morality or fabric. Depending on the caprice of Janet Jackson, the guardian genius of “wardrobe malfunctions,” your mileage, like your pulse-rate, may vary.
And the rest of the musical (the less prurient of you may inquire)? Uneven, but ultimately ingratiating; and certainly one of the strongest offerings on the Playhouse mainstage in many a moon (er, so to speak). Adapted by Terrence McNally from the British film of the same name, The Fully Monty has been smartly relocated to upstate New York, as a troupe of unemployed blue-collar workers screw up the courage to enter a local stripping contest — all the way to the “full monty.” Along the way, we discover that they are each, in their own way, a basket-case of insecurities, battling their individual demons and occasionally wives, exes, children, and muscle-bound gay guys. In McNally’s wise and witty script, The Full Monty is less about the flesh than about contemporary American perceptions of masculinity, and while we shouldn’t quite expect Susan Faludi: The Musical!, there’s some real dramatic points here.
Sweet-faced Jonathan Jones anchors the show as the wanna-be strippers’ ringleader, and while he looks way too young to have fathered a teenage son (Thomas Williams), he’s certainly got vocal chops. In the tradition of fine action films, Jones rounds up a posse of similarly desperate souls, including best bud Dave (Jason Mosher), devious security guard Malcolm (Rick Sanchez), horse-hung Ethan (Travis Trevino), WASP-y Harold (Jim Frazier), and self-proclaimed “Big Black Man” Noah (Chris Byrd), who nearly steals the show in his Motown-inflected star turn. They’re joined (improbably) by the hilarious Laurie Fitzpatrick as the sardonic, world-weary pianist and stagehand: a comedic stand-in, one suspects, for the openly gay author himself.
As far as the performance goes, the non-thong-based misfires cluster in the first act, including a patently unbelievable fight scene, and a limply staged (and frequently out-of-tune) duet, “You Rule My World.” (The singing is all over the place in this production, though Act One’s withering parody of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” is a stand-out. And so richly deserved.) Under Frank Latson’s direction, things zip along more swimmingly in the second act, as the night of reckoning approaches. David Yazbek’s nimble music and lyrics reach their apex in “The Goods,” a surreal scene that exposes the chauvinism of the men when a nearby women’s magazine springs suddenly to life: with a start, the men realize that they will be, in effect, the next exploited Cosmo girls. (Objectification is a dish best served cold.)
To its immense credit, The Full Monty refuses to exclude homosexuality from its examination of American masculinity, though the openly gay love song “You Walk With Me” cocked `sic` not just a few eyebrows among Playhouse patrons. (At least no one ran screaming from the theater; there hasn’t been such a homo-friendly production on the mainstage since Angels in America. Treat your favorite boi to a night on the town.)
The sound problems that have plagued previous Playhouse productions are still present, but less so, with some occasional buzzing and wonky amplification. Donald Fox contributes a clever Buffalo-goes-Cubist set, lit by William J. Stewart with a showman’s eye for the dramatic. Gloria Liu’s choreography is appropriately simple — these are steel workers, not the Bolshoi — while Andrew Hendley holds together the small orchestra throughout the jaunty score.
In a mainstage season rather heavy on the fluff, The Full Monty stands out as a well-crafted musical that every Tom, Dick, and Harry can enjoy — even as its gentle social satire is destined to give some lucky audience members … the willies. •
The Full Monty
8pm Fri & Sat,
Through March 2
San Pedro Playhouse
800 West Ashby