Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
There are several reasons in this life to bare all, be it your soul or your body, but few as equally moving and fun to watch as the musical version of The Full Monty, running weekends through Oct. 21 at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center in Owego.
First produced in 2000, the musical was based on a 1997 British film of the same name but reimagined for the stage by Terrence McNally (book) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics).
If you don’t know by now, the title refers to when a stripper takes it off … takes it all off. But how this group of unemployed blue-collar workers in present-day Buffalo go from despair to naked joy is terrific, touching on some pretty serious themes along the way: love, loss, insecurity, impotence, role reversal, infidelity, profiling, race, orientation and transformation.
Compliments to the director, James Osborne, who “always wanted to direct this show”; Producer/Assistant Director Sarah Hogan, and the company members who aptly oblige. Together they put on a performance that leaves all inhibitions at the stage door. The cast lustily sings and dances its way through the songs. many about what it means to be a man or a woman in tough economic times.
That’s reason enough to get your tickets, but you’ll also enjoy the sheer exuberance of each performer, even when hitting the higher notes is a reach. It’s not about singing beautifully here, just about singing with lots of feeling. There are a few notable duets, however, where beautiful is the first thing you think of when hearing them.
The show features a cast just big enough to fit in the bistro setting of the theater. Conductor Michael Nave and a small band (at least half a dozen musicians) are on a raised platform at the rear of the stage. From where I was sitting, about eye-level to the ensemble, the instruments bested the vocals, but not entirely.
What I did catch of the lyrics was often laugh-out-loud funny, and frequently bawdy. So just a heads up: If you are not in the right head to laugh at the absurdity of a good joke about previously taboo subjects, wait until you are. But don’t stay away. There are just too many good bits in this show to miss. Although the setting is supposed to be present day, the attitudes of some of the characters are closer to the year it was written. A lot can change in society in 18 years, but, again, this is no reason not to go.
This was the first time I had seen (or even listened to this musical. If I had it to do over, I think I would have listened to the original Broadway cast recording beforehand.
What I love about Ti-Awhaga’s Full Monty is the chemistry of the ensemble. A lot of familiar faces and a few new ones populate this show. The male lineup includes Jon Campbell as Keno with a show-stopping Chippendale-type number.
But he’s got (almost) nothing on the secretly assembled, but soon-to-be-exposed, line-up: Vito Longo as Jerry, Shawn L. Yetter as Dave, Paul Sanna as Harold, Isaac Weber as Malcolm, Steve Taylor as Horse and Ti-Ahwaga Executive Director Sonny Dewitt as Ethan. Dewitt gives a new meaning to the phrase “climbing the walls.”
Supporting male roles are played by youngsters Gordon Wu and Cameron Cole, (sharing role of Nathan) and Stan Zawatsky who doubles as Teddy and Reg.
Several great performances are turned in by the women in the show, including Kerry Kane as Pam, Megan Germond as Georgie, Christine Ryder as Vicki and Wendy Germond as Jeanette, the accompanist, who has some fun memories about her fading career to share with the boys.
Supporting women cast members include Carolyn Christy-Boyden as Malcom’s mom, Molly; Debbie Mallen as Toni; Adara Alston as Estelle; Jessica Hyland as Susan, and Katherine Bartlette as Joanie. Hyland also does an amazing job choreographing a show that was not only risque but risky, in terms of possible wardrobe malfunctions. More credit goes to Diane Arbes and Jane Nichols for their tricky costumes.
Someone in concessions always has fun with the featured dish at any Ti-Ahwaga show. For The Full Monty, it’s a Buffalo Weiner and Chips. Hot dog!
IF YOU GO: The Full Monty will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 21 at the Ti-Ahwaga Community Theater, 42 Delphine St., Owego. For tickets, call 687-2130 or visit www.tiahwaga.com.