Bare Pride

Six laid off steel mill workers decide to become strippers in hopes of a big payday.  This is the thrust of The Full Monty by Terrance McNally with music and lyrics by David Yazbeck and is currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

After reading my opening paragraph, you might be asking yourself, “Is this show raunchy?”  And the answer is “Yes, a little.”  When a story is about a group of mostly blue-collar guys deciding to strip, I would have been quite surprised if there had been no crudity.  But that isn’t the real story of the show.

The show is about WHY these men decide to become strippers.  That turns it into a story about pride.  You see the good side of pride because these men have stopped feeling like men due to their long unemployment.  They simply want to be good providers for their families again.  You also see the negative side of pride due to their unwillingness to take lesser jobs until something better comes along.  There’s even a bit of nobility to their decision to strip as all are extremely uncomfortable at the thought of baring it all, but are willing to make a sacrifice to their pride in this respect in order to put food on the table.

Brandon McShaffrey provides some top quality direction and choreography to this musical.  He has an iron grip on the true themes of this show and helps his cast make nuanced, multilayered people out of their characters.  The staging is impeccable, utilizing the entire theatre to tell this story.  His choreography is also a great deal of fun with my personal favorite dance numbers being “Big Black Man” and “Michael Jordan’s Ball”.

As for the cast. . .my, my, my.  There isn’t a bum in the lot.  Some of the 5 star performances you’ll see come from Nancy Marcy as an acerbic former entertainer (maybe?) who just randomly shows up with a piano to provide musical accompaniment for the would-be strippers; Garrick Vaughan as Noah “Horse” T. Simmons who dances like Fred Astaire in spite of a dodgy hip; Todd J. Davison as the buttoned down Harold Nichols who reluctantly teaches the troupe how to do a strip tease; Matthew Sather as the dumb as a post Ethan Girard who makes em laugh with his repeated failures to complete Donald O’Connor’s wall flip from “Make Em Laugh”; and last, but certainly not least, Madison Kauffman and Kyrstin Skidmore as Georgie Bukatinsky and Pam Lukowski, the wife and ex-wife of the two leading characters.  Both are rocks in their relationships with their husband and ex-husband.

I also want to take a moment to note the powerful performance of Michael Perrie, Jr. as Malcolm McGregor.  This is a sublime performance as Perrie captures the essence of a somewhat nerdy, lonely, repressed man who is dominated by his mother.  His decision to strip actually raises him up as he finally has friends and is able to embrace his own sexual identity.  Perrie has a stunning tenor and has the night’s most moving number, “You Walk with Me”.

Alan Gillespie plays Jerry Lukowski and is brilliant.  Gillespie’s Lukowski is about as blue-collar as you get.  He swears.  He’s opinionated.  He’s even a bit of a hustler who has clearly talked his best friend into a lot of hare-brained schemes in the past.  But he’s also a bit of a sensitive soul and some of his braggadocio is a cover for how scared he truly feels at the moment.  He wants to work and provide and he’s truly fearful about losing custody rights to his son due to being unable to pay child support.  Jerry’s decision to strip is not a get rich quick scheme.  It’s a desperate attempt to obtain enough money quickly enough so he can still be a dad to his son.

Gillespie has flawless delivery and can snap off a bon mot in one moment and be staggeringly tender in the next.  His singing voice is fantastic and can be snarkingly amusing such as “Big-Ass Rock” where he sings about helping a friend commit suicide or heartbreakingly loving such as singing to his sleeping son in “Breeze Off the River”.

My hat is off to Bobby Montaniz with his performance as Dave Bukatinsky.  Due to the loss of a performer, Montaniz only had 4 days to learn his part, but you’d think he’d had 4 months with the confidence of his performance.  To be honest, Montaniz is confidently unconfident with his take on Dave.  Unemployment has broken Dave.  He no longer feels like a man and makes the mistake of carrying the burden by himself instead of sharing it with his wife.  He is extremely self-conscious about stripping due to being overweight and takes a job he hates because he loves his wife.  But when he finally opens up to Georgie, it’s the play’s most satisfying moment as he finally gains the courage he needs to let it all hang out.

Yvonne Johnson’s costumes do the trick from the very casual wear of most of the steel mill workers to the breakaway costumes of the strippers.  My favorite bit of costuming is from the number “The Goods” when the women are dressed in the working gear of stereotypically masculine jobs to ogle/deride our wannabe strippers.  P. Bernard Killian has designed a series of set pieces that encourage the imagination to complete the picture such as the wall and large picture window of Harold’s house to the glittery curtains used for the strip shows.  Jess Fialko does fine work with the lights from the colorful flashes on the performance curtain to the darkening of the theatre for the strippers to the soft lights for the play’s more tender moments.  Sky Aguilar has some great sounds for the show from the engine of a car running when one of the characters tries to monoxide himself to the crashes and thuds of Ethan trying to flip around backstage.  Patrick Summers and his orchestra really play up the fun of the amusing and sometimes sensitive score.

This show is a lot of fun and is far more than a tale about male strippers.  It’s about pride.  It’s about friendship.  It’s about the real meaning of being a man.  It’s about family.  And it is definitely a good time.

The Full Monty plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 7.  Showtimes are at 2pm June 23, 28, July 2-3, 7 and at 7:30pm June 23, 26, 29, July 5-6.  Tickets begin at $24 and be obtained by calling the Box Office at 660-385-3924 or visiting www.maplesrep.com.  Due to strong language and sensitive subject matter, this show is for mature audiences.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

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