Watching a group of “average” guys strut their stuff, nude or nearly so, on stage may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it’s seemed to work for an awful lot of people over the years since The Full Monty first hit Broadway in an adaptation of the hit British movie. And judging from the opening night reaction to the Players Theatre production, it’s working big time in Sarasota right now.
That’s in large part, of course, because of what lies beneath the decision of six out-of-work men to take a desperate gamble for money and their self-respect with one night of stripping for an audience that includes their wives. At first, the idea that this very mixed group would ever—ahem—pull it off is unlikely; each one has his reasons for being reluctant to bare not only his body, but his soul. But they also have compelling reasons to do it, and you’re disposed to root for them from the beginning.
Laid-off steelworker Jerry (Players artistic director Jeffery Kin, playing hooky) and his longtime buddy, Dave (Tim Fitzgerald), feel like Scrap, as they sing in the strong opening number, with no jobs to go to and suffering an accompanying loss of manhood. Jerry needs money to retain joint custody of his son, Nate (Jacob Lutz), and Dave, who struggles with his weight and body image, has been rejecting his amorous but concerned wife, Georgie (Dawn Dougherty). Then there’s former steel plant exec Harold (Mike Phelan), who’s so worried about losing his wife, Vicki (Sue Cole), that he hasn’t even told her he’s out of work. In cleverly contrived scenes (in the show’s book by Terrence McNally, boosted by the music and lyrics of David Yazbek), Jerry’s plan for one night of glory picks up steam in encounters with sad sack Malcolm (Tony Boothby), still living at home with his mother, and the remaining two members of the team, well-endowed Ethan (Steve Bikfalvy) and Horse (Gordon Gregory)—who’s well aware that all women love a Big Black Man.
All of the main performers (as well as the large and enthusiastic ensemble cast) are high energy throughout, and, in a major stroke of luck, the crucial six amateur strippers fit well within the defined physical and character types they need to be. They’re given extra juice by a larger than usual orchestra led by Rick Bogner that packs a lot of punch in rocklike numbers (but can also shift gears for the occasional touching tune), and, most especially, by the choreography and direction of Jared E. Walker. Virtually every scene in the show hits the mark, but the audition sequence (where we first come across cynical show biz vet Jeanette, played perfectly by Bobbie Burrell) is particularly boffo, as is the Act I closer, Michael Jordan’s Ball, where the guys first start coming together with their moves.
I could go on, but you get the picture: The Full Monty is a winner. It’s onstage through May 13; for tickets call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.