“The Full Monty’ Flashes Great Moments at theREP

Capital Repertory Theatre has selected “The Full Monty” for their summer crowd pleaser and why not? It was nominated for 9 Tony Awards and ran for almost two years on Broadway and has become a favorite across the country. It has a book by Terrence McNally, winner of a Lifetime Achievement Tony this year and score by David Yazbek, winner of last year’s Tony for Best Score for “The Band’s Visit.” The plot of the musical follows a very successful 1997 British film of the same name and Americanizes it, transposing the setting from Sheffield to Buffalo. When a steel plant in the city closes and the men lose their jobs, they are forced to face themselves and challenge what they previously believed of themselves and come up with different career paths. They decide to strip and to compete with the Chippendales dancers, they promise that they will go “the full monty,” full-frontal nudity. All this, directed by Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, who could be the most versatile director on the Eastern Seaboard as observed by my years of play going (We are so lucky to have her!). I’d go see that.

There is hard rock softly playing in the lobby and house placing you in a club in Buffalo before the show even begins. Once it does there’s a fantastic ladies night performance with Christopher M. Howard doing a precise strip as a businessman which gets points for the great use of a confetti cannon. The number gets us right into the spirit of things and what the guys are up against as far as what the standard is. The set by Scott Aronow is a multi-use unit that incorporates elements of the story: a glitter curtain, a beat-up car, a catwalk,  a brownstone stoop which easily and attractively with the help of a crack stage crew that move the pieces around to create over a dozen locales  with the help of a great lighting and projection design by Barry Steele. Costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan are fun and witty especially when we get into the show business milieu and his costumes for Jeanette (Susann Fletcher) have to be seen to be believed! Stage Manager Melissa Richter keeps the pace clipping along to Maggie’s standards and you are never checking your watch. Musicals are long enough without less than efficient scene changes.

To me, the heart of the play is getting the guys together and sending them on this impossible quest (the music even quotes “Magnificent Seven”) to become strippers. There are four group scenes and they are priceless with the invaluable assist from choreographer Freddy Ramirez. From the hysterical auditions with their deadpan firecracker of an accompanist Jeanette (Susann Fletcher), the guys learning a routine that they can relate to with the number “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” rehearsing and getting comfortable with their apparel or lack thereof to their 11 o’clock number baring all with the show’s climax “Let It Go.” I like how Yazbek’s title contrasts with the film’s climactic number “You Can Leave Your Hat On.”

The gang of six are Jerry, Christopher Sutton giving an energetic performance as the one with the inspiration. His best friend is an overweight schlub named Dave (Patrick John Moran), doing a bang-up job and he has my favorite voice of the night and does a wonderful duet of “You Rule My World” about their wives with their former supervisor Harold, played friskily by theREP’s treasure Kevin McGuire who is having a grand time strutting through this show. Reggie Whitehead has the best audition, by far, with his rousing “Big Black Man” that gets the audience cheering. Malcolm (David Socolar) is a Mama’s boy in argyle and untucked plaid who has a public moment of pride when he joins Eddie Maldonado’s Ethan, the secret weapon of the group, to sing a moving “You Walk with Me.” I would definitely buy a ticket to their roadshow.

There are family members inspiring, motivating and burdening the men. Kimberly Doreen Burns is doing a fantastic job as Dave’s wife Georgie. She is an attention magnet onstage and her scenes with Moran are the most persuasive relationship. Equally good with less to work with is Lyn Philistine (so great as Donna in 2017’s Mamma Mia!) as Harold’s wife Vicki, their dance class is great. Sue Caputo has a nice moment in the roll-on role of Mama MacGregor. Understudy Joshua DeMarco took on Jerry’s son Nathan and I felt lucky, he is charm personified, a most welcome figure on any stage when I have a ticket. You always see the point Emily Matthews is making as Jerry’s ex when expressing her frustration. The last three performers mentioned are Capital Region residents along with Victoria Benkoski, Mitchell Johnson, Josh D. Smith, Fred Sirois, Victoria Preisman and Nicole Zelka. I enjoy seeing so many opportunities abound on South Pearl Street.

Fantastic laughs were delivered in non-verbal moments throughout the night: Dave jogging like a jalopy missing one wheel, Vicki’s scatting, Fred Sirois’ strip to “Heartbreak Hotel” and memorably the guys rehearsing their routine during a most inappropriate time. Good stuff!

If you’ve never seen this musical, theREP is doing a great production of it and another major reason to go is to get acquainted with David Yazbek’s first big success. The story is fun but frankly, there are gender roles and perceptions that have evolved in the past twenty years, there are jokes that don’t land and scenes that kind of dissipate instead of concluding. But the music is just as enjoyable as the first time I heard it and it does so many things so well. It has character, setting, emotion and great humor when needed. He may be the funniest composer working in musicals today. I’m looking forward to catching this year’s Tony-nominated “Tootsie.” I haven’t even mentioned the two best numbers in the show. A fantastic number introducing the characters, the situation, the obstacles and the stakes called “Scrap” and Jerry’s “Breeze Off the River,” a tear-jerker about a father’s love for his son which gets me every time. Music Director Josh D. Smith (who has another welcome walk-on role), his band of five and eight cast members assisting on percussion do an incredible job on this diverse tuneful score.

It’s a night for all of us who work hard and want to play hard. Bring plenty of singles, if not to stuff in g-strings then to buy a raffle ticket benefitting theREP’s education program which will fill future cast lists.

Capital Repertory Theatre
Thru 8/11

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