Review: A full-throttle ‘Full Monty’

Editor’s note: Generally, EncoreMichigan.com does not review shows produced by the state’s college and university theater departments. But with its mix of Hilberry professionals and Wayne State undergraduate students, we decided it might be fun to check out this rather unusual pairing on the Bonstelle stage. However, as one of our occasional “special reviews,” this production of The Full Monty will not be eligible for a 2011 Wilde Awards nomination.

We had both seen The Full Monty, the stage musical based on the movie, previously but neither I nor my wife could remember much about it beyond the basic plot – certainly not any of the songs, let alone their titles. The new Hilberry/Bonstelle Theatre production reminded me why, and also that going to The Full Monty for the songs is like reading Playboy for the articles.

There isn’t one memorable song in the entire musical, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the show. Actually, there is one memorable song from The Full Monty; it’s called Maid of the Mist, but it was stripped from the show before it ever got to Broadway in 2000.

“Strip,” of course, is the operative word here. Like the British film it’s based on, The Full Monty (reset in Buffalo) concerns some unemployed factory workers who decide to perform a one-night-only strip show to raise much-needed cash and even-more-needed (but never mentioned) self-esteem.

Their driving force is Jerry (Hilberry actor Jason Cabral), inspired by the roaring success, even in a depressed economy, of a visiting Chippendales troupe. In a sense, The Full Monty is a blue-collar facsimile of another tale of male bonding, The Lord of the Rings – identify the quest; have a sidekick; recruit a brave band to help; get it done – with Jerry as its Frodo and his best friend, Dave (undergraduate actor Cal M. Schwartz), as Samwise.

Okay, just one more: The guys induce Harold, their former boss, also laid off, to teach them how to dance, and you may think of him as Gandalf. Harold is played by Alan Ball, the only other Hilberry actor in the cast.

There is much singing, dancing, pelvic thrusting, states of undress and humor of a mostly sexual nature, yet there is a happy earnestness and purity to Terrence McNally’s script, which Michael J. Barnes’ production captures well. The real music is in the dialogue and not in David Yazbek’s melodically lackluster songs.

A valiant cast does what it can with the songs. The actors’ spirit and energy are unwavering and several voices are much more than adequate, Cabral’s most notably. He, Schwartz and Ball turn in creditable performances, and Adam Crinson, Dave Cowan and Taurean Hogan create distinctive characters as the other neophyte strippers. Robbie Dwight, as one of the Chippendales, is the stripper par excellence.

Jacee Rohlck’s sets depict everything from a deserted factory to a lavish living room to a not overly hygienic men’s room, and Nira Pullin’s choreography seems like just the thing male strippers would work with. Makes you wonder where she’s been spending her time.

SHOW DETAILS: The Full Monty continues at the Bonstelle Theatre, 3434 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Friday-Saturday through April 23, plus Sunday, April 17. Tickets: $15-20. For information: 313-577-2960 or www.bonstelle.com.

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Performance Information

Show times

Friday, April 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm
Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm
Friday, April 22, 2011 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm
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