Little Theatre of Alexandria The Full MontyBy Bob Ashby • Jan 17th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Little Theatre of Alexandria Info Web
Little Theatre of Alexandria, Alexandria, VA
Through February 2nd
2:45 with one intermission
Reviewed January 16th, 2013
Long-term, structural unemployment in post-industrial America is not the most obvious context for an upbeat musical, but that is what David Yazbek and Terrence McNally pulled off in The Full Monty, now in a delightful production at the Little Theater of Alexandria (LTA). Based on a hit 1997 British movie of the same name, with the locale transferred to Buffalo, New York, the show, which originally opened on Broadway in 2000, traces the efforts of six unemployed steelworkers to raise some much-needed cash by putting on a strip show for their wives, friends, and any other paying customers who turn up.
The Full Monty is very much a men’s show, not only in the sense that the major roles are for men but because the show concerns itself principally with issues facing men, particularly how to maintain a sense of pride and competence, and successful relationships, when the economy takes away the breadwinner role on which a man’s image of himself is based. How do you avoid feeling like a loser when your only employment hope is an entry-level job as a Wal-Mart security guard?
The opening number for the men in the show, “Scrap,” poses just that question, incidentally illustrating the difference between a competent theater song and a great theater song on the same theme (see Yip Harburg’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime”). Jerry Lukowski (James Hotsko) is behind on child support, has no job prospects, and is sustained primarily by his love for his 12-year old son Nathan (Colin Cech). Hotsko has a pleasant light tenor voice (whatever became of writing Broadway musical leads for baritones?), nicely shown off in the ballad “Breeze Off the River.” He is convincing as a young man who never quite had it all together even when he had a job and now is quite lost without it.
His buddy Dave Bukatinsky (Christopher Harris) has well-founded body image issues, which lead him to midnight trysts with bags of snack food rather than with his frustrated wife Georgie (Carla Giambrone). More than his friends, Dave has to summon up a good deal of courage to take his clothes off in public, and Harris’s portrayal of Dave’s ambivalence is endearing
As the 50-something Noah Simmons (known as “Horse”), Malcolm Lee performs spectacularly in the energetic “Big Black Man,” a bluesy riff on the stereotype of a black guy’s anatomical proportions. Michael Gale’s shy, depressed Malcolm MacGregor and Keith Miller’s cheerfully uncoordinated Ethan Girard (who repeatedly tries and fails to imitate Donald O’Connor’s wall-climbing bit in Singing in the Rain), fall quietly and sweetly in love, their “You Walk With Me” toward the end of the second act being the most beautiful and touching number in the show. What makes their performances particularly strong is the way that, in Act 1 and the earlier scenes of Act 2, they show their characters beginning to come close to one another in small, unobtrusive ways, of which they are almost unaware, so that their ultimately becoming a couple grows naturally from what precedes the song. (The rest of the steelworkers accept their relationship in a way that doesn’t seem altogether characteristic of the Buffalo working class men I knew, but it’s a nice place in the show to suspend disbelief).
The final member of the stripper sextet, Harold Nichols (Jack Stein), hides his unemployment from his wife, Vicki (Annie Ermlick), which allows the other guys to blackmail him into choreographing the strip number. Ermlick is a good deal taller than Stein, lending a sweetly comic touch to the characters’ affection for each other. As well as having a strong, clear voice, Ermlick also gives a distinctly Latin flavor to her main number, “Life With Harold.” She might think about doing Lola in Damn Yankees some day.
Among the other women, veteran trouper Jeanette Burmeister (Jennifer Strand), the stripper gang’s accompanist, stands out, not only in creating a colorful, nothing-surprises her, tough but kind lady, with her flask always at the ready (the sort of character one can imagine Elaine Stritch playing in her younger days), but in delivering the show’s most inventive lyric, “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.” Georgie leads off the show strongly with “Let’s Play” and heads the women’s ensemble in “It’s a Woman’s World.” Amy Conley has the task of portraying Jerry’s rather unpleasant ex-wife, Pam; she competently sends Jerry the mixed signals, alternately cruel and encouraging, that the script giver her. One choice in the production with which I disagreed was making the small role of Teddy Slaughter, Pam’s current boyfriend (Dan Deisz) even more unattractive and disagreeable than the script requires, in turn emphasizing Pam’s negative side.
One small role that deserves mention is Keno Walsh (Daniel McKay), a gay, buff, ironically good-humored professional stripper who, because of the women’s reaction to his performance, inspires Jerry to think about doing a strip show. He impresses with his acting as well as his more corporeal talents.
Every facet of the LTA production sparkles. The band, led by Chris Tomasino, sounded note-perfect and precisely coordinated with the singers in playing the Yazbek’s pop/light rock-style score. The Full Monty is a dance-heavy show, and Ivan Davila’s choreography creates one entertaining moment after another, from ballroom dancing in “Life with Harold” to the wild and funky “Big Black Man” to the basketball move-inspired “Michael Jordan’s Ball” to the climatic strip number “Let It Go,” which incorporates and transforms elements from seemingly all the prior dance numbers. Director Shults wisely (indeed, necessarily) cast actors who move well, and the movement never fails to maintain the show’s liveliness.
The colorful and varied costumes for the large cast, designed by Kit Sibley and Jean Schlichting, range from the everyday (for the steelworkers in their regular lives) to glamorous (like Vicki’s red dress in “Life with Harold”) to cute and silly (Harold’s pajamas) to sexy (for some of the female ensemble) to mild fetish (the “security” outfits with which the men begin “Let It Go”). The last of these choices is particularly inspired: given that two of the characters have or used to have jobs as low-level security guards, in the final scene the security outfits become a symbol of a sort of empowerment, rather than loserdom. The costumes are well individualized for each character, even for small ensemble roles. The thoroughness of the design extends even to the curtain call, when the six strippers appear in identical white bathrobes, seen for the first and only time during the bows.
It is an old joke among theater people that some costume designers are so obsessive about details that they insist on actors wearing just the right underwear for their character and period. Well, in this show, the costume designers have to pay attention to underwear, as often as it is displayed to the audience, and Sibley and Schlichting come up with some wildly colored boxers and briefs as well as red and silver thongs that accent, as a second-act song would have it, “The Goods.”
MYKE Taister’s set design consists of an overarching metallic shed with lower units on either side representing brick structures with windows (it would have been nice for some of the windows to be broken). There is an upstage platform used in various ensemble numbers. In some scenes, items slide out from doors under the platform, most engagingly a red prop car in which Malcolm attempts suicide by carbon monoxide in the first act. The set functions effectively, though it does not quite capture the simultaneous feelings of melancholy and beauty that pervade the old industrial areas of Buffalo.
Ken and Patti Crowley’s lighting design provides a colorful accompaniment to the proceedings, and its operation was smooth throughout. Of particular interest were two sets of three instruments above the stage, facing the audience, which were used to good effect in the ensemble numbers, especially in “Let It Go,” where they blink on and off on quick succession to help create the strip club atmosphere.
Full disclosure: I grew up in a working class family in Buffalo. I visit from time to time, and dearly love the place, so I am probably more sensitive to Buffalo-related details in the show than most viewers would be. The occasional interjection of downstate accents by a few cast members raised my eyebrows a bit. While someone appropriately enough mentions wings, real Buffalo steelworkers would feast on Beef on Weck. There is no “Miracle Mall” in Buffalo (the “Boulevard Mall” would have been a realistic reference). If you get on Route 11 in New York State, you will find yourself closer to Binghamton than to Buffalo. The “Full Monty,” a bit of British slang (a reference originally suspected to have referred to World War II Field Marshal Montgomery and having a meaning roughly equivalent to “the whole nine yards”), is not one Buffalo working class folks would likely have had occur to them, unless perhaps they had seen the movie.
I also couldn’t help noticing that the program asserts that the time of the show is “The Present.” That isn’t quite right. In fact, the time in which the show appears to occur is all over the place. Per the script, the steelworkers have been unemployed between 6 and 18 months. In fact, the Buffalo-area steel industry died long before that: the Bethlehem Steel and Republic Steel plants closed in 1983-84 (the site of the magnificent Bethlehem plant, which for decades before there was environmental legislation turned the water of Lake Erie and the roofs of Lackawana orange, now ironically hosts several ecologically-correct wind turbines). Horse wears a shiny Drew Bledsoe jersey, which places him most likely in 2002, Bledsoe’s first and best season of his short, unhappy career with the Bills. Today, when Michael Jordan is longer the best player in the NBA, but simply an owner/executive of a franchise every bit as pathetic as the Wizards, his moves would not have the same resonance with everyday fans.
Buffalo nowadays is a hollowed out city, which has never recovered from the death of the old industrial economy and possibly never will. Not only have the factories themselves disappeared, but whole sprawling neighborhoods on the East and South sides of town, in which a lot of people with names like Lukowski and Bukatinsky once lived, are now largely empty, notable for miles of abandoned and demolished houses and businesses. Despite having become one of the poorest cities of its size in the country, Buffalo remains renowned for the genuineness and warmth of its people. Whatever the details of the local scene that the New York City and California-based creators of The Full Monty missed, they got that point right, and the warmth of the show’s emotions would be right at home in Western New York.
“I always say, to be well dressed you must be well naked.” – Oscar de la Renta
Meet Jerry, Dave, Malcolm, Harold, Horse, and Ethan–six unemployed steelworkers who have something to reveal. It might be an insecurity, a secret, a flaw. Yet since the fig leaf, men have been taught to cover themselves. We hide behind lies; we conceal what we don’t want to see; we veil what we don’t want others to see.
Going the “full monty” is a metaphor. It’s about revealing who you are, often to others, but mostly to yourself. It’s about being well naked.
These men learn that sometimes you have to get completely nude to discover who you are and what you are capable of becoming.
Photos by Shane Canfield
- Jerry Lukowski: James Hotsko
- Nathan Lukowski: Colin Cech
- Pam Lukowski: Amy Conley
- Dave Butakinsky: Christopher Harris
- Georgie Bukatinsky: Carla Giambrone
- Malcolm MacGregor: Michael Gale
- Noah T. (“Horse”) Simmons: Malcolm Lee
- Ethan Girard: Keith Miller
- Harold Nichols: Jack Stein
- Vicki Nichols: Annie Ermlich
- Jeanette Burmesiter: Jennifer Strand
- Buddy “Keno” Walsh: Daniel McKay
- Teddy Slaughter: Dan Deisz
- Susan Hershey: Emily “EJ” Jonas
- Dolores: Heather McElwain
- Estelle Genovese: Claire O’Brien
- Joanie Lish: Aerika Saxe
- Reg Willoughby: Marcus Fish
- Tony Giordano/Ensemble: Michael Bagwell
- Minister/Ensemble/Dancer: Ben Norcross
- Marty/Ensemble: Rene Keith Flores
- Molly MacGregor/Dancer: May Lou Bruno
- Ensemble: Sarah Gale, Robin Havens Parker
- Dancers: John Bosco, Anya Laurenzo, Heather Norcross, David Sears, Sharee Sears
- Producers: Rachel Alberts, Carolyn Winters
- Assistant Producer: Margaret Evens-Joyce
- Director: Frank D. Shults II
- Music Director: Christopher A. Tomasino
- Choreographer/Assistant Director: Ivan Davila
- Dance Captain: Claire O’Brien
- Stage Managers: Leighann Behrens, Marg Soroos
- Assistant Stage Managers: Charles Dragonette, Jim Hutzler,
- Eddy Roger Parker, Adrean Steel
- Set Design: MYKE Taister
- Set Construction: Chris Feldmann
- Assisted by: Ed Broyles, Jeff Gathers, Jim Hutzler, Dan Remmers, Rance Willis
- Lighting Design: Ken and Patti Crowley
- Costume Design: Jean Schlichting, Kit Sibley
- Sound Design: David Correia, David Hale
- Assisted by: Keith Bell, Sean Doyle, Alan Wray
- Set Painting: Luana Bossolo
- Assisted by: Charlotte Alberts, George Alberts, Ann Fitzgerald,
- Joanne Henry, Mary Hutzler, Jane Nilan, Robin Havens Parker, Stacy
- Pollack, Susan Prytherch, Leslie Reed, One Brick.org
- Set Decoration: Marian Holmes, Russell Wyland
- Master Electrician: Eileen Doherty, Michael J O’Connor
- Assisted by: Mary Abahazy, Kimberly Cargo, Peter Halverson, Jim Hartz, Michael Kwan, Pam Leonowich, Tom McLaughlin, Doug Olmsted, Nancy Owens, Adam Wallace
- Property Design: Eddy Roger Parker
- Assisted by: Leslie Reed, Jayn Rife, Sherry Singer, Margaret Snow, Liz Tipton
- Wardrobe: Jamie Blake, Brandy Morgan
- Assisted by: Kathy Dillaber, Barbara Helsing, Megan Murphy, Margaret Snow, Mary Beth Smith-Toomey
- Hair and Makeup Design: Robin Havens Parker
- Rigging: Russell Wyland
- Photographer: Shane Canfield
- Audition Table: Maria Ciarrocchi
- Assisted by: Tina Anderson, Mary Lou Bruno, Sherry Clarke, Eddy Roger Parker, Leslie Reed, Margaret Snow
- Audition Photographer: Shane Canfield
- Audition and Rehearsal Pianist: Matt Jeffrey
- Double Tech Dinner: Larry Gray
- Assisted by: Ronald Carter, Isabelle Zorro
- Opening Night Party: Virgina Lacey, Kathi Trepper
- Assisted by: Lloyd Billinger, Leslie Buckles, Ronnie Hardcastle, Robert Kraus, Eddy Roger Parker, Ben Robles, Sherry Singer, Mary Beth Smith-Toomey
Disclaimer: Little Theatre of Alexandria provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8991.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.