The intermission atmosphere in the ladies room was electric. Up and down the line out the door, there was a cacophony of giggles, gasps, and squeals. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the group had suddenly started drawing lipstick hearts on the mirror and belting “It’s a Woman’s World.” This is the kind of reaction WaterTower Theatre’s production of The Full Monty inspired on opening night, and if that portion is any indication, the audience’s enthusiasm will only continue to build.
The sign out front clearly states “Adult Themes and Nudity,” and they’re not kidding. Based on the Oscar-winning 1997 movie, The Full Monty recounts the ever more timely tale of a town out of work (it was working class Sheffield, England in the film but blue-collar Buffalo, New York for the musical). With the recent closure of the local steel mill, the town’s men suddenly find themselves depressed, emasculated, and desperate for cash. When Jerry Lukowski (Michael Isaac) spies the turnout that a local stop of the Chippendale’s tour draws, he realizes that one night of taking it all off could equal raking it in. He has a son with his ex-wife to support, or he might lose visitation rights altogether. His portly best friend Dave is struggling with the sudden reversal of household status now that he is home doing the dishes while his wife brings in the paycheck. They hold auditions, form a ragtag ensemble of willing men, and advertise a one night only performance guaranteed to go “the full monty.” The fact that the somewhat racy story also includes themes of tenderness, gender equality, comedy, and heart-wrenching truth is a bonus.
Going au natural for the sake of art is a group of very brave men. Especially notable are Jason Kennedy, Bryan Dobson, and Scott Zenreich. Kennedy’s shy mama’s boy Malcolm is so delighted to find a new group of friends that you can almost see his confidence grow scene by scene. Dobson plays a laid-off manager who’s been keeping the truth from his shopaholic wife. He is fussy, funny, and entirely enjoyable. Zenreich brings a manic energy to Ethan, a guy so in love with the idea of dancing yet so devoid of talent he considers running up a wall à la Donald O’Connor in Singing In The Rain. These three wholly embrace the quirks and idiosyncrasies of their characters, as well as contribute some of the finest voices of the night. Malcolm and Ethan’s touching second act duet, “You Walk With Me,” inspired a moment of breathless silence within the house, while Harold’s heartfelt ballad “You Rule My World,” sung with Stephen Bates (Dave), elicited kind laughter and a few “aww’s” from the audience.
Matching them note for note are three extremely entertaining women: Mary Gilbreath Grim (Georgie), Jenny Thurman (Vicki), and Pam Dougherty (Jeanette). While the women are not the main focus of the show, every time they grace the stage a laugh is sure to follow.
The rock and pop influenced score by David Yazbeck offers the cast ample opportunity to cut loose and play. Paula Morelan’s choreography and staging is appropriately awkward and hilarious, with each man encumbered by his own personal insecurities. The final number is—as it should be—a rollicking good time.
While the production does suffer from the occasional off-key note and an almost constant low volume from the microphones (or is it over-amplification of the band perched high atop the stage?), one hopes that it’s just the result of opening night jitters and will be ironed out in the coming weeks. The men, at least, don’t suffer from stage fright – at all.
Photo: Front from left: Bryan Dobson, Michael Isaac, Jason Kennedy; Back from left: Guinn Powell, Stephen Bates, Scott Zenreich. Photo by Kari Engelbrecht for the WaterTower Theatre