It couldn't be more timely: a musical about six out-of-work, out-of-shape steel-workers trying to find jobs and some shred of dignity and self-respect as husbands, sons, single parents, bread winners and, quite simply, as men. This musical is based upon a popular British film of the same name from the late '90s. A few years later, award-winning playwright Terrance McNally and composer/lyricist David Yazbek teamed up to create a musical stage adaptation that was enthusiastically received on Broadway. And now, eight years later, this show is every bit as relevant and entertaining today given our country's current dismal economic picture.
Veteran director/choreographer Marc Robin and musical director Bill Busch have cast and staged the perfect ensemble of actors for bringing this story to life. And once again the innovative Marriott design team of Thomas M. Ryan, Diane Ferry Williams and Nancy Missimi have created an environment that is both apropos and inventive depicting modern-day, middle-class Buffalo, New York.
KC Lupp brilliantly heads up the cast as Jerry Lukowski, a single dad desperately trying against all odds to find work, maintain a civil relationship with his ex-wife and hold onto his son (talented young Matthew Levy). Mr. Lupp stands out as a very accomplished singer; he also understands the delicate balance necessary to keep Jerry realistically grounded while still being able to find the humor in dramatic situations.
Jerry's so far behind in child-support payments that there seems to be no way out. However, after noticing the unbridled popularity of the Chippendale entertainers who have come to town, Jerry convinces his umemployed buddies that the perfect way for them to solve their collective financial problems is to turn themselves into lean, mean dancing-machines. What will make their troop of six unbuff, average-looking male strippers novel and even more popular, he reasons, is that they'll end their act by taking it all off, providing "the full monty."
Each character is given his moment to shine in this production. Joe Coots is a lovable Dave, Jerry's teddy bear-like best buddy whose umemployment-caused depression has led him to be devoted more to junk food than to his wife. Malcolm, skillfully played by Stephen Schellhardt with a tender balance of humor and pathos, comes to terms with his sick, dehumanizing mother as well as his own alternativee lifestyle. Schellhardt's lovely voice soars in "You Walk with Me," a tribute both to his mother and his new-found life partner, Ethan (warmly played by Jason W. Shuffler). Milton Craig Nealy is also both funny and moving as Noah "Horse" Simmons, particularly in his show-stopping number, "Big Black Man." And Michael Gerhart transforms Harold, the guys' former boss, from a rigid man in self-denial to someone who learns to accept and enjoy what life has to offer.
But we mustn't forget the show's women, who are equally strong presences, especially Abby Mueller as Dave's wife Georgie, Summer Naomi Smart as Jerry's ex-wife, Pam, and Kymberly Mellen as Harold's live-wire spouse, Vicki. But the lady who stops the show every time she opens her mouth or raises an eyebrow is local favorite, Alene Robertson. As Jeanette, the boys' audition accompanist, a cigarette dangling from her crimson lips, who "just showed up with her piano in tow," she's known, seen and done it all through the years. And if anyone in this cast can hold her own against a half-dozen gyrating strippers in police uniforms, it's this Broadway baby.
This is a very funny, yet warmly conceived production made more intimate by Marriott's in-the-round staging. It reminds us that a person's self respect is really just as important as one's biological needs. The musical is as contemporary as today's headlines, full of pumping rock dance tunes and beautiful, haunting ballads, and is well worth a visit to the Lincolnshire Theatre.