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Theater review: ‘Full Monty’ both coarse and sweet

Sun., May 22, 2011, midnight

I’ve encountered many moods at the Spokane Civic Theatre. I’ve seen respectful audiences for Shakespeare and raucous audiences for rock musicals.

But never have I seen such a whooping, hollering, nightclub-like crowd like the one that rapturously greeted “The Full Monty” on Friday night.

It was like Ladies Night Out at the Civic, and this production delivered the (nearly) full package – much in the same way that the fictional unemployed steelworkers of “The Full Monty” deliver a wild night out for the ladies of Buffalo.

“The Full Monty” is a rude, crude, lewd and altogether transgressive good time, filled with humor, well-defined characters and surprisingly catchy roots-rock songs by David Yazbek. And its heart is surprisingly sweet – if “sweet” is a term that can be applied to a show in which even the innocent little kid, Nathan, launches the f-bomb.

Before I go any further, I must tell people what they are signing on for with “The Full Monty.” The men talk the way steelworkers talk in the locker room. One song chorus consists in its entirety of four words I cannot print. Another song is titled “Big Black Man” and it’s about – well, use your imagination. Another song, “Big Ass Rock,” is about something possibly even cruder than you think. It consists of two friends offering helpful suggestions on how another friend can commit suicide (such as dropping a cinderblock, or possibly a “big ass rock,” on his head).

And finally, you should know that you will see plenty of bare male derrieres and men in G-strings. The only thing you won’t see is “the full monty,” but only because director Troy Nickerson stages the finale with plenty of fine theatrical sleight-of-hand.

And yet, this show is sweet and old-fashioned at heart. Terrence McNally, who wrote the book based on the British movie, has tremendous sympathy for this band of screw-ups. The story is touching at its core: Jerry Lukowski, a divorced and unemployed mill worker, loves his kid, Nathan. Yet he has to come up with some money, and fast, or he will lose custody. Nathan will feel abandoned and the world will brand Jerry a failure.

And that’s where the “old-fashioned” part comes in. “The Full Monty” is nothing less than the classic “hey-gang-let’s-put-on-a- show” musical, with only one little twist. It features men getting naked.

Jerry talks his other unemployed pals into staging a male strip show – a kind of flabby, amateur Chippendales event.

By the evidence of this performance, this formula is so foolproof – both comically and dramatically – it’s amazing someone never thought of it before.

The songs aren’t delivered quite as well as in the 2007 professional production at the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre. Some of the harmonies need work. Yet Nickerson once again proves adept at casting people in roles where they can shine. The star is Robby French, who ably carries the show’s emotional weight as the deeply flawed but good-hearted Jerry.

Every bit as impressive is David Gigler in the mostly comic role of the big guy Dave Bukatinsky. Max Daniels is also terrific as the “Horse,” whose hips are getting creaky but who can still groove.

The other male dancers – Todd Kehne, Daniel McKeever and Kevin N. Kuban – are funny and sympathetic. Not to mention, commendably game.

Meanwhile, Mary Starkey as the hardened accompanist, Jeanette, and Billy Hultquist as the professional male dancer, Buddy “Keno” Walsh, both stole their scenes.

“The Full Monty” will undoubtedly be popular with the ladies-night-out crowds and, yes, the enthusiasm in the audience Friday night was mostly female.

Yet the truth is, this is a show that speaks more strongly to men than most musicals. “The Full Monty” is deeply sympathetic to male insecurities in modern America. The jobs they love are vanishing. They can no longer provide for their wives and families. That’s something they can’t abide.

And in this show, all of this is symbolized by another basic male insecurity – of the physical variety. Men are anxious about their bodies and afraid that women will, you know, laugh. In “The Full Monty,” the men somehow find the courage and the gumption to overcome all of their fears. Turns out, the ladies love it.

“The Full Monty,” at Spokane Civic Theatre’s Main Stage, reviewed Friday night, continues through June 19. For tickets, call (509) 325-2507.

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