by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened its 45th season with the musical dramedy The Full Monty. It will be on stage until October 9th. Call 249-0289 for reservations or visit their website at www.playersbythesea.org.
Adult Content Alert!! Adult Content Alert!! Six unemployed steel workers from Buffalo, New York will expose themselves, emotionally and physically, at 106 Sixth Street North in Jacksonville Beach for the next two weeks in a musical that is a little naughty, a little bawdy and terribly funny.
The show opens at a Buffalo nightclub packed with screaming women. Buddy Keno Walsh, a handsome, sharply dressed male is performing center stage; he will be wearing only a loincloth designed to attract attention when the opening music ends. The women will be waving paper money and wildly cheering. Buddy as played by Jimmy Alexander, makes the life of a male stripper appear glamorous and sets the story in motion.
Jerry (Erik DeCicco) is a divorced single father scrambling to pay ex-wife Pam (Jessica Alexander) child support so he won’t lose the privilege of seeing his son Nathan (Tadan Middleton, cast alternately with Charlie Meierdierks). His overweight buddy Dave (Jeff Wells) is married to Georgie (Ruth Simpson) and is also financially strapped. Jerry figures that if all these women will pay some money to see a gay stage performer strip, they will pay some real money to see some real men strip.
Jerry next enlists Harold (Jon Fine), a former factory supervisor to choreograph his show. Harold, who lost his job six months ago, has never told his love-to-shop wife Vicki (Amy Allen Farmer) he has no job and has been living on credit cards. They find the next member of their troupe when they discover Malcolm (Blake Osner) trying to commit suicide; he too is unemployed, is depressed and is living with his mother.
The final two members of the group they call “Hot Metal”, are brought in with open auditions. Noah (Horse) Simmons is David Girard, a middle-aged black man who can really move and shake. The final member is Ethan (Jonathan Ross), a clumsy uncoordinated individual, who can’t dance or sing but has impressive physical qualifications.
The six guys are great together, with excellent comic timing and superb chemistry that is obvious.
If this sounds like a male only show, it is not so. In “Life with Harold”, Amy Allen Farmer as Vicki brought down the house with a fine voice and a spectacular dance, set in a ballroom with Jon Fine. And Brook Anne Hayes practically steals the stage in Act II as Jeanette, the showbiz savvy piano player who is rehearsing the troupe. Not only does Hayes belt out a song, she has some of the funniest numbers which she delivers to perfection.
The other ladies in the show playing various roles include Cecilia Cristol, Katie Wann, Judy Gould, and Ilana Gould.
Michael Smithgall and Rico Lastrapes play several roles and are on and off the stage frequently.
All the songs in the show were composed by David Yazbek, have very clever lyrics, and are performed well by various members of the cast.
The set, designed by Lee Hamby, displays an industrial interior, with brick and gray walls, corrugated steel panels on both sides, and an elevated platform. The musicians are seated on the platform, and it also becomes part of the play’s nightclub setting, where ladies congregate. The set morphs into other settings easily, including a restroom, the nightclub stage, a ballroom, and bedrooms. Additionally, the design allows Malcolm to drive a car onto the stage to initiate his suicide attempt, an effect roughly comparable to the helicopter landing in Miss Saigon.
The costumes designed by Lee Hamby are solidly blue collar for the most part, with (for example) jeans and flannel shirts for the men, and a lot of black and white with sparkles at times for the women. The red jock straps do brighten things up a bit.
Choreographer Kellina Chavoustie used her usual magic and made dancers out of six guys with little or no experience. They are stripping while they are dancing so your attention might not be on their feet. Well, now that we are this far along, what you want to know is do they pull it off? Take it all off? The Partial Monty? Or The Full Monty? The conclusion is an experience for the audience. Ever wonder what a deer feels like looking into headlights? You’ll know once you see this show.
Putting aside the adult content warnings, there is a lot of substance relevant to today’s issues in the show, like unemployment, financial stresses, insecurity, and troubled relationships. The musical was based on a 1997 British film of the same name, set in Sheffield, England. Playwright Terrance McNally wrote the book, and set it in Buffalo, a steel town very similar to the original. The show opened on Broadway in 2000 and was nominated for nine Tony Awards.
Director Shirley Sacks has done a magnificent job of casting and direction as we have come to expect from this talented lady; she has done it so many times in the past.
Musical Director Bryant Miano is on keyboard, leading the band perched high above the set. The members of the band include Vin Sowders on trumpet, Jeremy Gray on bass, Phillip Gillette on drums and Rico Lastrapes on reeds.
Technical Director Jim Wiggins’ lighting design complements the music and action. Karl Rogers and Lana Mullins are stage managers and also operate the lights.
The opening night audience was the most energetic and excited we have experienced in some years. You would have though everyone there had just won the lottery. We were rewarded with a very funny, funny show; a belly-laugh show that had many laughing to the point of tears, it was that good.
If you attend a Thursday evening performance, you will be treated to free Buffalo wings from Dick’s Wings and Grill. How’s that for unusual dinner theatre offerings?
One final note on the cast. There is an additional cast member, a Minister who presides at a funeral in Act II. (I told you there are some serious moments in the show). On opening night, Amadeus, a local radio personality, appeared in this role. There will be different guests at each performance; TV personalities, a politician and a former Jaguar just to name a few. And mark your calendars for October 7th, when the male half of dual critics will appear fully clothed in this role as the Minister in The Full Monty.
THE FULL MONTY review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM