It goes without saying that most musicals do not open with a perfectly chiseled Chippendales dancer doing a handstand while wearing nothing but skimpy spandex undies.
But in most other ways, “The Full Monty” adheres unadventurously to Broadway musical formula, surviving on a quippy blend of old-fashioned structure and occasionally risqué content. It’s unusual to see so many men’s derrieres onstage, but the show, which currently runs at the Wick in Boca, is about a docile as a story about strippers can be. It won’t rock any boats, but it’s a nice enough ride.
The musical, which premiered off-Broadway in 2000 and later ran on the Great White Way for two years, is based on the a British film I’ve not seen. Writer Terrence McNally transferred the story to Buffalo, where the shuttering of a steel mill has devastated the lives of its former employees.
Jerry Lukowski (Preston Ellis), a divorced former steelworker, risks losing joint custody of his son if he cannot pay his share. His best friend Dave (JP Sarro) has lost his pride as his marriage’s erstwhile breadwinner—along with his libido. Foreman Harold Nichols (Barry Tarallo) has been deceiving his wife into believing he still works at the mill, fearful that she won’t accept a more modest lifestyle. And the awkward shut-in Malcolm MacGregor (Alex Jorth) has turned to attempted suicide.
The only glimmer of hope is an unlikely one. Once they discover that their wives fawn over the Chippendales dancers at the Buffalo strip club, the steelworkers decided to put on their own show, on the premise that women would rather see real men, fully nude, than airbrushed fantasies in thongs.
David Yazbek’s music, for the most part, feels unorthodox, jazzy and hip; his lyrics, with their predictable rhyming couplets, are never quite as satisfying. But the show’s more important themes resonate in this Wick production; it has plenty to say about body issues and the impossible-to-attain ideal of celebrity skin, as well as about surviving economic hardship and banding together in the face of adversity.
Each dancer is clearly an archetype, a stand-in for a certain audience demographic, and in many cases, the actors are given few dimensions to work with. But in this exceptionally cast show, under Dom Ruggerio’s direction, they feel about as real as you could hope for, including Reggie Whitehead as a stereotype-bucking African-American dancer and Regan McLellan as a steelworker who can’t dance but makes up for it in, well … other ways. Each actor slides into his role like a cog on a factory-line widget, collectively inhabiting the full spectrum of the modern male condition.
What’s even better is Ruggiero’s handling of the women in their lives, who come pretty close to stealing the scenes away from the men. As Dave’s unsatisfied wife Georgie, Kara Staiger’s hurt is touchingly real; she’s a fount of conflicting emotions, more complex than probably anyone onstage. Casey Weems, as Harold’s pampered wife, radiates in a show-stopping song in Act One, but is just as compelling when reining herself in later on. Sabrina Lynn Gore accurately conveys the bitter disappointment in her ex-husband Jerry, while subtly suggesting the lingering feelings that still exist well below the surface; and Leslie Anne Wolfe nails the show’s funniest lines as the dancers’ piano player, a crusty figure sculpted from showbiz lore.
A few small things from McNally’s book don’t exactly gel with what’s happening onstage; you may wonder why, for instance, professional movers are repossessing a 20-year-old television—a boxy old relic that couldn’t bring $200 on Craigslist—from Harold’s supposedly lavish home. Ditto the line about the confiscation of his Blu-ray player for similar reasons (who buys a Blu-ray in installments?), a line that was obviously added in later productions but probably never rang true.
The set design, or “scenery,” as it is credited in the playbill to Gateway Playhouse, relies on geometrically precise panels that function invariably as a strip-club backdrop, union hall, steel factory and various houses. It resembles an art-deco project still in construction, and adapts well to its many purposes. I also appreciated the comically run-down appearance of the men’s restroom in the ladies’ strip club, which is so dirty and decrepit it feels like it hasn’t been touched since an earthquake.
“The Full Monty” runs through March 23 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $58. Call 561/995-2333 or visit thewick.org.