The Full Monty | Stages St. Louis

th_monty_smThe most surprising storyline is the homo-erotic love story between two of the dancers. In this testosterone-inflated story, I was shocked to see how tender and gentle the love between two of the male characters was portrayed.

 

 

 

 

Book by Terrence McNally
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton
The Robert G. Reim Theatre, Kirkwood

Beefcake, and lots of it—that is what Stages St. Louis serves up with its latest production, The Full Monty. Loosely based on the 1997 flick, the only thing these two shows seem to have in common is six average-looking guys who devise a scheme to take their clothes off for some quick cash. The plot focuses mainly on Jerry Lukowski (Michael Halling) and Dave Bukatinsky (Nicholas Kohn) who have lost their jobs at a local factory. Both men are also having marital problems of sorts, with Jerry dealing with child support owed to his ex-wife, Pam (Erin Kelley) while Dave and his wife, Georgie (Jenna Coker) are dealing with Dave's lack of intimacy.

Seeing how local women are paying big bucks to watch some Chippendale dancers bare their skin, Dave enlists several of the local (read: average) men to put on their own strip show to raise some fast cash. The rest of the story deals with how each man comes to be part of the show—and how it affects their families—which culminates in a big "will they or won't they show it" crescendo.

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While the story may seem a bit transparent, Terrence McNally made sure to over stuff the story with several smaller story lines. To give the story some depth and texture, he explores each of the men's motives and dysfunctional lives. Ethan Girard (Matthew Skrincosky) is saved from an untimely exit; Norah "Horse" T. Simmons (Keith Tyrone) is forces to deal with his own stereotype issues; and Malcolm MacGregor (Zachary Halley) just wants to show off his "natural talents." The most surprising storyline is the homo-erotic love story between two of the dancers. In this testosterone-inflated story, I was shocked to see how tender and gentle the love between two of the male characters was portrayed.

Throw in a wise-cracking, fast-talking piano player, Jeanette Burmeister (Zoë Vonder Haar), and you have a cast full of colorful characters that make for an entertaining night of theater.

Musically, the show has its highlights and lowlights. The majority of the highlights go to the women of the show. Songs like "It's a Woman's World" and "Life With Harold" stood head and shoulders over some of the male performances, including "Scrap" and "Man." Keeping that in mind, Tyrone did do a sensational job on "Big Black Man" and the male ensemble did an impressive job on "Michael Jordan's Ball." But both of these songs stood out thanks to Stephen Bourneuf's terrific choreography. The dance numbers throughout the entire show were so fantastic, that I would be shocked to not see Bourneuf's name among those at the Kevin Kline Awards for Outstanding Choreography – each sequence was that sensational.

As far as the performances go, there were also some highlights and lowlights. Halling and Kohn did acceptable jobs in the male lead roles, but Skrincosky and Halley really outshined them in their smaller roles. Halley's ability to provide comedic relief was outstanding and Skrincosky has an impressive stage presence. Both actors hit an emotional highpoint with their performances on "You Walk With Me." Both of their performances were heartfelt and genuine which impressed me the most of the men.

The women overall were more impressive than the men with one exception. Coker impressed me last year as Frenchy in Grease and she impressed me as Dave's horny wife, Georgie. This actress infused an amazing amount of energy in the production as she nearly stole the show with her flawless performance. There is nothing I can negatively critique Coker on—her performance was that tight. Even in a scene where she was just sitting on a suitcase waiting for her part of the scene to start, I was impressed with how intense Cocker appeared; I couldn't take my eyes off her and she wasn't even speaking.

Giving Coker a run for her money was Heather Jane Rolff as Vicki Nichols. Like Coker, Rolff impressed me as Jan in Grease and as Vicki in this production. I am not sure if it is the way she carries herself or if it is how she sparkles as she delivers her lines, but Rolff also caught my eye every time she hit the stage. Despite the fact that her booming vocals almost overpowered the audio system when she sang "Life with Harold," I was impressed with Rolff in every scene she appeared. Rounding out the hat trick for top-notch female performances was Vonder Haar, who turned in her usual brilliant performance as Jeanette. Vonder Haar is a walking, talking lesson on how to act. Never having seen a bad performance from this local legend, Vonder Haar once again showed she is a huge theatrical asset to St. Louis. Impressive in every scene she appears, Vonder Haar got to show not only can she act, not only can she sing, but the woman can tell a joke. Vonder Haar's comedic abilities were showcased throughout the whole production proving that this woman can do it all.

The lone female role I just couldn't get on board with was Kelley's performance as Pam. The actress was just too stiff and too flat, which caused me to not really care about her character. Additionally, there was zero chemistry between her and Halling on stage. I know they were supposed to play estranged lovers, but there wasn't even a pop or sizzle between the two actors.

Visually, the show was a mixed bag. Lou Bird's costumes were once again fun to look at albeit a bit dated, and Mark Halpin's sets were adequate sans some beds that were far too small a big screen television that looked goofy on stage.

The real charm of The Full Monty is how even in this day and age, the naked human body is controversial. The show teases the entire audience from the very beginning – thanks in part to a very sexy, very muscular Roger Rosen (as stripper Buddy "Keno" Walsh) – to the very end, as the men show more and more skin. While inferred male nudity is an added bonus to the show, don't forget that The Full Monty has much more to offer than raw flesh. The story is interesting, the dance numbers are terrific, and most of the actors give the production sparkle and shine. Just don't blame me if you get home and your significant other gives you that come hither look; blame it on Stages St. Louis' very sexy production. | Jim Campbell

Through Aug. 17, 2007; tickets and more information

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