AISLE SAY Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area


Book by Terrence McNally
Music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Directed by Jack O'Brien
The National Theatre
1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C.

Reviewed by Keith Waters

The Full Monty, the Broadway musical about six hapless unemployed steel workers who become reluctant male strippers to pay their bills, has roared into town for a brief run at The National Theatre and it makes for a sparkling evening of theatre. The musical continues to run on Broadway and it has received 10 Tony award nominations, including Best Musical and Best Book by four-time Tony Award winner and accomplished playwright Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!; Lips Together, Teeth Apart; The Lisbon Traviatta).

Loosely based on the 1997 movie of the same name, the musical has been transplanted from Britain to Buffalo, New York, and adds a new character, Jeannette (Carol Woods), a washed-up night club performer who volunteers to play the piano for the dance rehearsals. When his ex wife threatens to petition for sole custody of their only son because he has not paid child support, Jerry Lukowski (Christian Anderson), decides to recruit his buddies to perform in a new male strip act at Giordano's, the local beefcake showcase for bored house wives. The professional male dancers perform in skimpy thongs and Lukowski believes that women will flock to see them if they advertise that they will perform fully nude, or go "the full monty."

For the most part, the story and songs are entertaining, and the cast is first-rate. Woods lights up the stage with her solo, "Jeanette's Showbiz Number." Cleavant Derricks excels at Horse, a middle-aged African-American man burdened with a nickname about his physical assets which he says he does not deserve, and he performs a show-stopping number, "Big Black Man." Christopher J. Hanke is in the best physical shape of the steel workers and he plays a charming, but ditzy blond boy toy who keeps risking grave physical injury as he attempts a series of daredevil stunts. Heidi Blickenstaff also radiates energy and charisma as the vampy wife of one of the steel factory's white collar managers.

The first act is marred by a tasteless and ill-conceived scene depicting an unemployed steel worker attempting to commit suicide by sitting in his car with a hose running from the exhaust pipe into the passenger compartment. Two other steel workers rescue him and the trio launches into "Big-Ass Rock," a macabre number about the best way to commit suicide. Much of the audience on opening night fell silent at the insensitivity of this number, and McNally must have been asleep at the wheel when he included this awful sequence. An unrealistic fight scene between Keno, a handsome and hunky regular stripper at Giordano's, and one of the steel workers is laughable, and the script contains several gratuitous and offensive comments implying that Keno is gay.

In the finale, director Jack O'Brien, who also directed the Broadway version, has incorporated an awkward bit of stage business. When the dancers on stage have stripped down to their baggy boxers and are hesitant to remove any more clothing, the remaining members of the cast file into the two aisles of the National Theatre and jeer at the on-stage performers to take it all off. However, they blocked the audience's view of the stage until they mercifully sat on the floor in the aisles for the show's final moments. When the men remove their red thongs, a sign containing extremely blinding bright lights (forming the words "The Full Monty") behind the performers obscures any glimpse of their family jewels.

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