Theater Review: This Full Monty Is Anything But That

If someone told me that 20 minutes before curtain at Runway Theatre, the cast of The Full Monty stood in a circle, pulled their parts out of a hat, and left the rest up to luck, I wouldn’t be too surprised. How else to explain a production so messy and unfocused, where each scene feels like a poorly paced, barely committed improv exercise that’s about to careen off the rails?

Though Runway is a small company with limited resources, it often excels at turning those restrictions to its advantage—last year’s creative Zombie Prom, for example, in which the young cast sold the goofy and simple show for all it was worth. Here, with the Americanized musical adaptation of the 1997 British film about six out-of-work guys who decide to strip for quick cash, it’s clear that this show is way too ambitious. From the head-scratching casting to the disjointed musical accompaniment to the wandering direction, the parts add up to a terribly disappointing sum.

The outlook is dire from the get-go, beginning with a plodding rendition of David Yazbek’s normally peppy overture from the hidden four-piece band (led on keyboards by the show’s director, Byron Holder). The musicians are often out of sync and keep a curiously slow tempo, and their backstage placement forces the actors to continually struggle to keep pace. During two songs especially, “Man” and the big finale “Let It Go,” there is basically no collaboration between the two whatsoever. The instruments also tend to overpower most of the unmiked actors, leaving Yazbek’s clever lyrics abandoned in a murky musical mess.

Only Alex Krus, who plays the rotund yet sensitive Dave, and Sheila D. Rose, with her youth impressively disguised as the seasoned showbiz pianist Jeanette, overcome the volume issue without resorting to caterwauling. The two also deliver the only salvageable bits of acting, with Krus’ relatable self-consciousness striking a chord and Rose’s brassy characterization landing comfortably between entertaining and outrageous (toting around a cute Pomeranian puppy doesn’t hurt either).

“Feel-good” is a quality that’s built into this show—you go in wanting these blue-collar guys to succeed, and Terrance McNally’s sentimental and not terribly sophisticated book all but strong arms you into rooting for them. Down on their luck and emasculated by the women in their lives, who are now bringing home the bacon, these steel workers echo the pain still felt by thousands of America’s unemployed. After seeing the reception a traveling Chippendales show receives, the guys decide to offer up their own strip revue—with a twist. To make up for the muscles and moves they haven’t got, these regular Joes promise to go all the way: the “full monty” of the show’s title. Overcoming body issues, sexist views, bigotry, and plain old fear, the men find strength and confidence in each other, ultimately taking it all off with pride.

Pretty stirring stuff, right? So when something that’s programmed to be this uplifting ends up bringing you down, there are some major problems. Sadly the cast is not up to the task, especially Woody (no last name, according to the program) as the group’s ringleader, Jerry. Supposedly a golden boy in high school, Jerry has since grown up to learn that charm and charisma don’t pay the bills and that in order to keep seeing his son—his ex has moved on to a stable businessman—he must catch up on child support. Instead of confidence, Woody gives us a nervous lump with no trace of Jerry’s swagger. You can see the strain of acting in his eyes, and his dialogue feels delivered ten lines in advance.

As if trying to divert attention from a car crash, the ensemble overcompensates with distracting stage business and feigned background conversations at every opportunity. A little of this is realistic, but when it consistently eclipses the person who is singing or talking it begins to feel like there are multiple shows taking place onstage at once. It’s impossible to focus, but in the case of this show perhaps that’s a blessing. Succinctly put: this ain’t the goods.