“The Full Monty” is a triumph for director and choreographer Ethan Paulini and his talented cast of local actors and pros from away. It is funny, touching, charming and delightful. With his debut at PTC, Paulini has directed the show 10 times, so he ably managed to wring every laugh and ounce of sentiment from the script.
The show is based on the 1997 film about men laid off when a steel plant shuts down in Sheffield, England. They decide to put on a male strip show to earn some money and regain their dignity after six months without work.
In 2000, Terrence McNally, who wrote the book, and David Yazbek, who wrote the music and lyrics, set it in Buffalo, New York, but kept much of the film’s plot and dialogue.
Jerry Lukowski (Daniel Kennedy), is behind in his child support payments. His best friend, Dave Bukatinsky (Ben Layman), is overweight. Together they hatch the plan for a local strip show after the women of Buffalo lineup to see the Chippendales, led by Buddy “Keno” Walsh (Zach Robbins). They are joined by their former foreman Harold Nichols (Ronald L. Brown), lonely plant security guard Malcolm MacGregor (Dominick Varney), the surprisingly gifted Ethan Girard (Ira Kramer) and real but aging dancer Noah “Horse” T. Simmons (Reggie Whitehead).
Layman and Varney give touching and nuanced performances. Both veterans of local stages, the actors bare more than their bodies in “The Full Monty.” They give the show its heart and soul.
Dave’s ode, “You Rule My World,” a duet with Harold, to his wife, Georgie (Brianne Beck) oozes all the love and emotion he can’t bring himself to show her. While baring it all may be a brave act for an actor, Layman’s ability to portray Dave’s vulnerability is far more courageous.
Varney’s performance is equally riveting and a departure from the broad comedic roles he is best known for. The most touching moment in the show is when the shy and repressed Malcolm stands at his mother’s grave and sings “You Walk With Me.” His loss is palpable but so is his release from her definition of who he should be.
Kennedy’s Jerry exudes a charming machismo and outrage as the forces in his life he can’t control engulf him. The actor never quite opens himself up emotionally to the audience as Layman and Varney do until he sings “There’s a Breeze Off the River” in Act Two. In Jerry’s lament about how inadequate he feels as a father, Kennedy throws open a window to show the character’s greatest fear and his motivation in staging the show.
Drew Campbell (Nathan Lukowski), who will enter the eighth grade this fall, reflects all the vulnerability Kennedy rarely shows. His performance as the boy who desperately wants to see his father succeed is as insightful as Layman’s and Varney’s portrayals.
Brown, Whitehead and Kramer give equally fine performances especially in the opening number, “Scrap,” and “The Goods.” The men form a tight ensemble and work well together in building to the final reveal.
Zach Robbins wears his four months of training nicely as he show the locals what it takes to be a professional stripper.
As the wives of Dave and Harold, Beck and Heather Astbury-Libbey, respectively, capture the frustration and fear they feel at their inability to comfort and communicate with their men. Beck’s scenes with Laymen especially ring true. Their duet in the reprise of “You Rule My World” is an inspiring and loving tribute to enduring marriages.
And then there is A.J. Mooney as Jeanette Burmeister, the accompanist for the men’s rehearsals. Jeanette, who is not a character in the film, is a show biz veteran who’s worked with big stars and witnessed big disasters on stage and off. “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number” opens the second act and is a hoot and a half because Mooney’s comic timing is perfect. She brings this hardened show biz moll with great panache and flair.
The six-piece band, under the direction of Phil Burns, give the score more heft that it probably deserves but nicely underscores the actors’ emotions. The musicians also ably give the final number, “Let It Go,” the strippability the actors need for their naked finale. The song bears no resemblance to the one from the movie “Frozen.”
The theater company’s fine technical staff made up of Tricia Hobbs (scenic designer), Christopher Annas-Lee (lighting designer), Katie Guzzi (sound designer), Meredith Perry (properties designer) and Kevin Koski (costume designer) give the show the look and feel of an industrial town. The only visible glitch opening night was the men’s boxer shorts getting caught on their boots in the final scene. Putting Velcro up the sides to save that stumble would make the striptease flow more smoothly.
Penobscot Theatre Company’s 44th season, which concludes with “The Full Monty” may go down in history as the “Season of Nakedness.”
It began with women baring their breasts in “Calendar Girls” and ended with men baring it all in “The Full Monty” at the Bangor Opera House. Both shows were highlights of what was otherwise an unusually dull slate of productions. Next season looks far more promising.
“The Full Monty” will be performed through July 9 at the Bangor Opera House, 131 Main Street. For information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.
The Bangor Daily News is a sponsor of the Penobscot Theatre Company.