The Full Monty
Book by Terrence McNally
Dirty, hilarious and full of heart
|Kokandy Productions presents|
|The Full Monty|
Review by Lauren Whalen
The men of The Full Monty are decidedly less than perfect, not just in body shape but in life. One is a divorced ex-con who describes himself as “in debt up to my balls,” another suicidal and still living with his elderly mother. One pins all his hopes in being able to run up the wall like Donald O’Connor in “Singing in the Rain”, yet another is lying to his spouse about a high-paying job he no longer has. Thanks to the closing of Buffalo’s steel mill, all have now been unemployed and broke for months. What else is there to do but become exotic dancers for one unforgettable night? Based on the cult 1997 British film, The Full Monty is a raucous, joyful musical about working-class struggle, and Kokandy Productions presents its first non-Equity Chicago staging with off-the-wall gusto and miles of heart.
Former steel mill foreman Jerry Lukowski (Garrett Lutz) is in a pickle: he’s in danger of losing joint custody of his preteen son Nathan (Seth Steinberg and Kyle Klein II) unless he coughs up child support. Jerry’s best friend Dave Bukatinsky (Scott Danielson), a house-husband since the layoff, struggles with insecurity about his inability to bring home the bacon and his tendency to eat his feelings (at one point he sings a tender lullaby to his own stomach). When Jerry and Dave happen upon a male strip show that entices the women of Buffalo – and gets them to cough up fifty bucks a pop – Jerry proposes they stage a warts-and-all counterpart. The men are eventually joined by sweet security guard Malcolm (George Toles), their former supervisor “Harold the Hun” (Eric Lindahl), well-endowed dreamer Ethan (Greg Foster), and Noah “Horse” Simmons (Randy Johnson), an elderly African American with killer pelvic thrusts. But will Buffalo’s women go for a less-than-airbrushed version of masculinity? Will Dave shake off his considerable self-image issues? And will spunky accompanist Jeanette (Caron Buinis) croak behind the ivories? Things get complicated even before Jerry announces that the men will up the ante and strip completely nude (“the full monty”).
Terrance McNally’s book has plenty of raunchy humor, but doesn’t sugarcoat the characters’ rough circumstances and genuine desperation. Supplemented by David Yazbek’s equally hilarious and heartfelt music and lyrics, The Full Monty has a gravity that many of Broadway’s bigger musicals don’t possess. At one point Jerry’s ex-wife Pam (Laura McClain) bluntly assesses his character: he’s often had big ideas and little follow-through, and this has extended to his relationships and parenting. Not exactly your textbook hero. And Harold is genuinely anguished over the lies he tells his loving but materialistic wife Vicki (Colette Todd) about his now-nonexistent career. He relished his former ability to give her anything and worries that once she finds out the truth, she’ll leave him alone and bereft. Loss and grief are doled out as much as unexpected connections and belly laughs. In its ability to savor life’s beautiful highs and devastating lows, The Full Monty becomes what many musicals aren’t: human.
Director John D. Glover (also Kokandy’s Co-Artistic Director) infuses every line and lyric with a little extra something – while his staging is a little awkward at times, his generosity with actors and audiences alike overtake the missteps. Angela Enos’ costumes accurately reflect the characters’ blue collar existence, and her design of the men’s stripper outfits is giggle-inducing and inspired. Danny Spagnuolo’s choreography shines (especially in the Act I finale, where basketball and exotic dance meet) and music director Kory Danielson aptly guides an ensemble of tremendous singers. Standouts in a stellar ensemble include Lutz’s flawlessly flawed Jerry, Danielson’s imposing yet utterly lovable Dave, Buinis’ cheerfully nicotine-addicted Jeanette, and Toles’ Malcolm. The latter brings Monty’s best performance, brimming with vulnerability and gallows humor, and trilling gorgeous high notes with abandon.
Kokandy’s Full Monty pulls off what few shows can: it’s clever in every way, but never winks at its audience. Rather, this production pulls them in, invites them to chortle, sniffle and finally cheer. Thanks to wonderful writing, direction, design and acting, this Full Monty gives us a ragtag group to root for, because they are both flawed and determined. This Buffalo is a town of scrappy doers who, when the chips are down, put on a show – a very dirty one, that will warmly stick in your head and heart for weeks to come.
The Full Monty continues through April 12th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Wednesdays-Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 3pm and 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $38, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at KokandyProductions.com. (Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Joshua Albanese Photography
Dana Anderson (Joanie Lish), Neala Barron (Susan Hershey), Caron Buinis (Jeanette A. Burmeister), Scott Danielson (Dave Bukatinsky), Greg Foster (Ethan Girard), Matt Frye (Reg Willoughby, Repo Man 1), Marsha Harman (Georgie Bukatinsky), Randy Johnson (Noah T. “Horse” Simmons), Royen Kent (Teddy Slaughter, Minister), Kyle Klein II (Nathan Lukowski 1), Eric Lindahl (Harold Nichols), Garrett Lutz (Jerry Lukowski), Laura McClain (Pam Lukowski), Elizabeth Morgan (Estelle Genovese), Jake Morrissy (Tony Giordano, Marty, Repo Man 2), Charlie Rasmann (Buddy Walsh, Police Sergeant, Gary), Sarah Simmons (Molly MacGregor, Dolores, Dance Instructor), Seth Steinberg (Nathan Lukowski 2), Colette Todd (Vicki Nichols), George Toles (Malcolm MacGregor)
behind the scenes
John D. Glover (director), Danny Spagnuolo (choreography), Kory Danielson (music director), Ashley Ann Woods (scenic design), Angela Enos (costume design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Mike Patrick (sound design), Johnny Buranosky (props design), Gordon Granger (technical director), Erin Rourke (wardrobe head), Michael Mulhearn (assistant director), Kasey Alfonso (assistant choreographer), Kait Samuels (stage manager), Patrick O’Brien (sound engineering), Nicole Szontagh (crew), Joshua Albanese Photography (photos)