It’s a “Let’s put on a show!” show.
It’s a group-of-unlikely-friends ensemble piece.
It’s a divorced-parent story.
It’s a familiar tale about what happens to the workers after the plant shuts down.
It’s about societal expectations for men, and about how men and women deal when the men can’t live up to them.
It’s a show about the problems of sexually objectifying ideal bodies, but it provides generous opportunities for the audience to appreciate the physicality of the performers on stage, particularly if their inclinations include appreciating men.
It is, of course, The Full Monty. The musical version, created by Terence McNally and David Yazbek for Broadway, and produced in Edmonton by Two ONE-WAY Tickets to Broadway, directed by Adam Mazerolle-Kuss.
Six unemployed male steelworkers, each with his own insecurities, decide to make money by performing a stripdance show. Through several challenges (trouble recruiting, trouble learning to dance, trouble coming up with the deposit for the venue, being arrested for indecent exposure or something) and personal troubles (pressure to get a conventional job, child-support dispute, repossession of property, bereavement), they come to support each other and appreciate each other, and the happy ending is the successful performance. The story follows the movie version fairly closely, and adds singing, dancing, and two delightful new characters, Jeanette (Francie Goodwin-Davies), a retired show-biz piano player, and Keno (Adam Sanders), one of the Chippendales dancers mentioned off-stage in the movie.
The singing and stage presence of Brian Christensen (Jerry) and Ariana Whitlow (Georgie) were particularly impressive. The choreography was fun to watch and all the main characters were good dancers who seemed to be enjoying themselves. Carter Hockley, playing Jerry’s young son Nathan, was noticeably more impressive in the third performance than in the first. (Yes, I have seen this show twice, it’s a reviewer thing, hmph.) Like the other performers in the show, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Carter Hockley in future years. His flirtatious routine handing out flyers was especially fun. Dave, the soft-hearted character (“You cry at Wheel of Fortune,” Jerry points out) who thinks he is too fat to be attractive, was played with touchingly humorous understatement by Jordan Ward. David Johnson (Malcolm) manages the Sandra-Bulloch feat of starting out with such uncomfortably-awkward postures, ill-fitting clothes, and avoidance of eye contact that one does not notice until partway through the show that the performer is actually attractive. The other three dance-troupe members, Harold (James Toupin), Horse (Orville Charles Cameron), and Ethan (Greg Caswell), are all played by actors with lots of experience, and their comic delivery is as good as their dance timing.
I was pleased at the way the script dealt with homosexuality. Although some of the steelworkers display casually-homophobic attitudes in the abstract ( “those Chippendale dancers must all be fairies, because real men wouldn’t go to the trouble of looking like that”) and make various pro-forma jokes, the new romance between two members of the ensemble is completely a non-issue: “Good for them” says Jerry. Also, compared to the movie, there’s a little more set-up foreshadowing this development – in a first viewing of the movie it might seem to come completely out of the blue.
My one complaint – and I don’t know if it’s just about this production or about the musical in general – is that I found it a bit too long, with some of the talking-only scenes too long for what is needed to develop characters and mood or advance the plot. Georgie and Pam (Joy Quilala)’s conversation in the men’s bathroom, the vignette about neighbours moving out, even the conversation to recruit Harold while the ballroom dancing is going on – I thought all of them could have been shorter. (Well, I didn’t actually mind the recruiting-Harold thing, because I mostly just watched the ballroom dancers.)
The music was good. There was a nine-piece orchestra with a conductor who was not also playing the piano, and the sound was very well balanced. The songs that stick in my head include “It’s a Woman’s World” and the finale “Let it Go”. The opening song “Scrap” had an odd melody reminiscent of a Joe Jackson song (I can’t remember which one), but was not as good a showcase of the singers’ talents as “Man” (Brian Christensen and Jordan Ward) or “You Walk With Me” (David Johnston and Greg Caswell).
The sets changed among many locations (mostly only used once each), with complicated bits like a whole public bathroom, a car, and a fussily-decorated living room. But the rotating bits moved smoothly and everything looked sturdy enough not to distract. Each of the performances I saw probably had one minor wardrobe malfunction, managed with poise by the performer affected.
The final dance number set during the strip show performance met my expectations, and illustrated the main theme of the show about how sincerity and self-confidence make anyone hot.
Two ONE-WAY Tickets to Broadway’s production of The Full Monty is playing at Unithéâtre/La Cité Francophone until June 30th, except for Mondays. Tickets are, as usual, available at Tix on the Square, or at the door.