AISLE SAY San Francisco

THE FULL MONTY

Music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Terrence McNally
Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf
Presented by American Musical Theatre of San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose / (888) 455-7469

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Layoffs often seem like mere numbers when we hear or read about them, but behind those numbers are real people who often experience real hardship as a result of layoffs. That's the case in Buffalo, NY, where many men have been jobless ever since the steel mill shut down several months ago. These are men with families, mortgages and mounting debt. They're depressed and stressed. We meet them in American Musical Theatre of San Jose's production of "The Full Monty," the musical adaptation of a popular English film. Although Terrence McNally's book, along with David Yazbek's music and lyrics, moves the location across the Atlantic, the basic story is the same.

After seeing how eagerly women will pay $50 to see a hunky male stripper (David Gregory as Buddy "Keno" Walsh), the unemployed Jerry Lukowski (Jim Newman) decides that he and some other men could earn some much-needed cash if they put on their own strip show. He persuades the reluctant Dave Bukatinsky (Eric Leviton) to join him in the scheme even though Dave is decidedly and self-consciously overweight. Eventually they enlist four other men: the uptight Harold Nichols (David Gunderman), their former boss; Noah "Horse" T. Simmons (Keith Tyrone), a 50-year-old, arthritic black man who still has some good moves; the suicidal, painfully shy Malcolm MacGregor (Alan Swadener); and the cheerful, well endowed Ethan Girard (Ian Leonard). The wise-cracking Jeanette Burmeister (Zoe Vonder Haar) shows up and volunteers to be their rehearsal pianist.

Jerry's biggest concern is that he might lose custody of his beloved, 12-year-old son, Nathan (Tony Sinclair), to his ex-wife, Pam (Jessica Raaum), because he's behind on his child support payments and she's living with a more affluent man whom she might marry. Dave loves his wife, Georgie (Sheri Sanders), but he's withdrawn from her because of his depression. Harold hasn't told his wife, Vicki (Trisha Rapier), that he has lost his job, so she blithely continues to shop and spend. Malcolm has a part-time job as a guard at the shuttered steel mill, but he still lives with his invalid mother. Rehearsals don't go well, but over time the men improve their individual situations as they learn to work together, trust each other and communicate with those they love. Still, ticket sales lag until Jerry promises that they won't strip to just a G-string, as Keno does. Instead, they'll take it off, going for the full monty.

Yazbek's songs arise naturally from the story. Perhaps the most memorable is "You Walk With Me," sung by Swadener's sweet-voiced Malcolm as he grieves at his mother's funeral, and then blending well with Leonard's Ethan as the two men hold hands in an expression of love. Overall, the cast -- directed by Stephen Bourneuf, who also choreographed the show -- is quite good. Newman is a believable Jerry, loving his son and supporting Dave. Leviton's Dave is a bundle of mixed emotions as he deals with his weight and his marriage. Vonder Haar has terrific comic timing as Jeanette. Young Sinclair is remarkably poised as Nathan. Overall, the men seem more multi-dimensional than the women perhaps because the younger ones initially seem so shallow as they giggle and scream over the male strippers.

Musical direction is by Barbara Day Turner. Scenic consultant Jean-Fran├žois Revon, aided by lighting designer Derek Duarte, facilitates easy scene changes in a show that tends to be episodic. Cathleen Edwards' costumes seem appropriate to the characters, although some of the women's costumes reinforce the impression of shallowness.

Overall, though, it's a fun show with many amusing moments. It certainly was well received by the opening night audience.

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