Photograph by David M. Allen
HOOD ORNAMENTS: Jim Newman (left), Alan Swadener and Eric Leviton plan their moves.
American Musical Theatre throws clothes and caution to the wind in 'The Full Monty'
By Mike Connor
YES, The Full Monty is a big, raunchy party for the ladies. And yes, the "storyline" and "drama" of the stage performance make a great cover for hosting a strip show at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. But that's not to say the American Musical Theatre's production of The Full Monty isn't widely appealing. For starters, I enjoyed it, my wife enjoyed it, my mom enjoyed it, and so did all the white-haired ladies surrounding us, if their snorting, choking, tear-inducing laughter was any indication. The boys onstage had them at the first awkward pelvic thrust.
Unlike some books and films that are adapted for the stage, The Full Monty was destined for it. The whole movie is a buildup to the end performance, deriving much of its dramatic tension from the almost universal twin anxieties of live performance and public nudity. The tension is doubled when, as an audience member of a live performance, you feel the anxiety of the characters and what you might imagine to be the anxiety of the actors, all of whom have committed themselves to baring it all.
Thematically, The Full Monty explores the concept of manhood in a place where men are fiscally impotent. The musical version is set in Buffalo, N.Y., where the steel industry and all the jobs it provided has gone soft, leaving hardy factory men to work cushy security-guard jobs in malls. The story focuses on three characters. Jerry Lukowski (Jim Newman) is the divorced dad who can't afford child support for his son; Dave Bukatinsky (Eric Leviton) is Jerry's chubby sidekick, whose self-esteem has bottomed out; and Harold Nichols (David Gunderman) is the doting sophisticate who can't keep up with his wife's spending habits. Inspired by the long lines and plentiful cash at the local Chippendale's, they, along with Malcolm McGregor (Alan Swadener), Ethan Girard (Ian Leonard) and Noah "Horse" T. Simmons (Keith Tyrone), put together a strip show to make some extra money.
Newman's Lukowski is mostly unlikable in the beginning—brash, misogynistic and homophobic—but Leviton's Bukatinsky is lovable enough for both of them. Swadener kills as the gangly, sunken-chested, idiotically morose MacGregor, whom the other two rescue while he's trying to commit suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning, all of which leads to one of the best musical numbers in the production. It might sound laughable for steel workers to suddenly burst into song, and it is, but in a good way. The songs are surprisingly masculine—the language is course, the tone sarcastic—and the lyrics are consistently funny. The musical goes further than the film does in confronting masculine sexuality by introducing more explicit homosexual themes. In fact, Lukowski only begins to be likable in the scene where he humbles himself asking a gay Chippendale's dancer how to be sexy, although it's Michael Jordan who actually helps them come to terms with moving their bodies.
The sets reflect the working-class tenor, with simple beams representing industrial settings and plenty of character development taking place in the privacy of bathrooms and bedrooms. The set is also used to brilliant effect during the performance's namesake moment—and that's all I'm going to say about that.
THE FULL MONTY, an American Musical Theatre of San Jose production, plays Wednesday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30pm through Sept. 28 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $20–$75. (1.888.455.SHOW)
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