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Naked Ambition

Theater Review

Between Terrence McNally's libretto and a catchy score by David Yazbek, 'The Full Monty: The Musical' is a lively piece of work, with the aura of a mass-appeal Broadway hit.

June 03, 2000|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

SAN DIEGO — There's a moon over Buffalo tonight. Six moons, in fact, and they're full.

They're the heart, soul, backside and raison d'etre of "The Full Monty: The Musical." The hugely popular 1997 film about unemployed steel mill workers stripping for cash in Sheffield, under the gray skies of England's decrepit northern industrial region, has been relocated to a candy-colored vision of Upstate New York. The story has been dressed up, and down, and then further down, as a raucous, uneven, trashy, highly entertaining musical comedy, which opened Thursday at the Old Globe Theatre.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday June 5, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--The actor who played Gaz in the movie version of "The Full Monty" was Robert Carlyle. He was misidentified in a Saturday review of the new, movie-based stage musical.

It has some problems, but it has the aura of a hit. Between a pre-sold title, an idiosyncratic and catchy score by composer-lyricist David Yazbek, and a clever answer to the pressing theatrical question of the new century--do you actually see 'em?--"The Full Monty" delivers.

If "Full Monty" director Jack O'Brien, the Old Globe's artistic director, manages some key revisions, Broadway may not have landed its next masterwork, but it may well have a new, sorely needed populist success.

Librettist Terrence McNally previously supplied the books to "Ragtime" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman," among others. He knows a few things about adapting well-known material from other mediums. As it stands, however, at just under the three-hour mark, "The Full Monty" won't strike anyone as McNally's finest hour, merely his most phallocentric--and that includes "Love! Valour! Compassion!"

In Simon Beaufoy's pungent original screenplay, the Sheffield lads were led into stripping by Gaz, a single father behind in his child support, played by David Carlyle. He was an arrested-adolescent case with a notion that "waving your tackle" at the local lasses could make you money and make you a hero, at least until the next trip to the unemployment line. Everyone remembers that scene from the movie: Gaz and the boys practicing their moves to the strains of Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff." It was enough to get people thinking about the material's musical-comedy prospects, though oddly this scene isn't re-created here.

In McNally's libretto, Gaz becomes Jerry Lukowski (Patrick Wilson), whose son Nathan (Adam Covalt) shuttles between Jerry's bachelor apartment and the new home of Jerry's ex, Pam (Lisa Datz). Though the women's roles have been expanded, if not necessarily made more interesting, the film's central figures remain largely the same.

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The reluctant strippers include Harold (Marcus Neville), the laid-off supervisor who hasn't told wife Vicki (Emily Skinner) about his unemployment. There's Dave (John Ellison Conlee), overweight and undersexed, with a frustrated wife, Georgie (Annie Golden), and Noah, nicknamed "Horse," (Andre De Shields), a 50ish African American amid a sea of pasty white flesh, still able to do a mean mashed potato and funky chicken.

Ethan (Romain Fruge), the guy with something extra, finds love via Malcolm (Jason Danieley), the suicidal security guard and fellow closet case. This was hinted at in Fox Searchlight Pictures' final cut of the movie; McNally borrows freely from the original screenplay.

In a misguided attempt to provide Jerry with a dreaded "character arc," McNally makes the protagonist far more loutish and homophobic than his film equivalent. In a men's room encounter with a gay Chippendale's stripper (Denis Jones, whose G-string routine opens Act 1), Jerry tries to deck the guy, but ends up getting decked himself. "Fairies, 1; Christians, 0," says the stripper, in a line apparently left over from McNally's "Corpus Christi." It's a supremely pandering moment.

Not that you'd accuse composer-lyricist Yazbek of highfalutin' sentiments. The score hits its stride with "Big Ass Rock," in which Jerry and Dave contemplate different ways of killing the hapless would-be suicide Malcolm. It's a lot funnier than it sounds. "Just before the lights go out/You'll see my smile and you'll know you've got a friend," Jerry sings. "With a rock. Who cares."

McNally's smartest addition is the character of rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister, wonderfully played by Kathleen Freeman. Yazbek gives her a tasty sure-fire Act 2 opener ("Jeanette's Blues," rife with show-biz references to Sinatra, Buddy Greco and their ilk). While often strident, Yazbek's lyrics at their best have a way of getting laughs on the fly, as they're carried along on his surprising, spiky, wrong-note melody lines. (Hats off to musical director Ted Sperling here as well.)

Yazbek's resume includes producing credits for the band XTC, and the "Full Monty" score proffers an infectious wiseacre sensibility similar to the XTC sound. Yazbek's a shrewd pastiche artist; "The Full Monty" skips from a swing-tempo overture (orchestrated well for a 12-piece pit band by Harold Wheeler) to a cha-cha lesson to up-tempo rousers, such as "Michael Jordan's Ball," in which the fellas lose their choreographic inhibitions by running basketball drills.

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