The Full Monty

Naughty Austin's production of the musical The Full Monty gets off to a clunky start, but once it hits its stride, it generously delivers a fun night for its audience

Arts Review

The Full Monty

Arts on Real, through June 23

Running time: 2 hr, 20 min

Naughty Austin's production of the Tony Award-nominated musical The Full Monty is a shining example of that which is great about community theatre: the varying levels of talent and the smorgasbord of backgrounds. Some of the players in this musical are seasoned actors; others are stepping onto a theatrical stage for the first time. The inexperienced ones, like Diane Beeler or Andy Agne, turn in performances that are matchless in their joy, while the experienced performers treat the audience to such fine talent as Betsy McCann's first-rate voice, Quincy Kuykendall's first-rate dancing, and Michelle Cheney's first-rate character acting. Then there are those performers who are in between. Kirk Landson has plenty of experience on Austin nonmusical stages, but to quote his bio, "It's been a few years (wink, wink) since his high school musical." Therefore Landson's lovely performance is accompanied by a shy smile and a slight incredulity. It actually makes him the most believable of the steel-workers-turned-strippers. On the Arts on Real stage, there is some awkwardness, and there is some jaw-dropping skill. Most importantly, there is generosity as this group delivers a fun night for its audience.

The Full Monty is designed to please. The jokes are easy, and the plot is perfunctory. Six steel-mill workers in Buffalo, N.Y., are out of work and out of luck. Enter the plot devices. The main guy, Jerry, needs quick cash so that he doesn't lose his son in a custody battle. The other guys need quick cash because, er, uh … they, uh … love their wives? At first, they are resistant to the idea of stripping, but in a short period of stage time, they jump that emotional hurdle in order to have some slapstick strip rehearsals. One character continually runs into walls. Another can't dance. There is a scene where a black man nicknamed "Horse" frets about his average-sized member and another in which "Fat Bastard" Dave tries to minimize his gut by Saran-wrapping it. The script does have some honest moments of darkness. One scene is surprisingly moving thanks to Leslie Hethcox's heartfelt delivery of a quiet melody over the backdrop of a funeral. But the attempts to force tension into the script become gratuitous by the end when Jerry gets cold feet for some completely minor reason, and his 10-year-old kid has to give him a pep talk. Thankfully, for the most part, The Full Monty sticks to its fun and fluffy premise.

Walking into the theatre, one is greeted by industrial architecture offset by a shimmery red curtain. It is a great visual setup. However, Naughty Austin's production gets off to a clunky start. There are some awkward crowd scenes, some poorly delivered exposition, and some hesitant shuffle steps. Tom Andrew, who plays Jerry, is competent but not remarkable. His voice rarely commands the stage, and much of the beginning of the play rests on his shoulders. The show doesn't pick up speed until halfway through the first act when Quincy Kuykendall turns in a showstopping rendition of "Big Black Man." This number galvanizes the entire production. The audience goes wild. The cast is bolstered by the response. From there on out, the show is a good time. Walter Songer's choreography shines in "Michael Jordan's Ball" – a scene in which the six would-be strippers can't wrap their minds around dance steps but can execute basketball drills.

Naughty Austin's The Full Monty offers a respectable level of character and kookiness. As for stripping down to nothing, word has it that the Broadway production didn't quite deliver the full-frontal goods. At Arts on Real, one may not be surprised to learn, the audience really does get the full monty. And according to Naughty Austin's Web site, six naked men merit a "strong PG-13" rating. In the spirit of this year's theatrical season, they're Keeping It Naked.

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The Full Monty, Naughty Austin, Blake Yelavich, Tom Andrew, Kirk Landson, Walter Songer

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