Those unemployed Buffalo factory workers turned Chippendales-style strippers are back, and Redondo Beach has them.  Though The Full Monty lost all nine of its Tony Award nominations to The Producers in 2001, the David Yazbek-Terrence McNally musical has become a regional theater favorite, and rightly so.  Musical Theatre West gave it a sensational big theater staging in 2007 and with director Dan Mojica at the helm, Civic Light Opera Of South Bay Cities’ brand new production is every bit its equal.

I’ve seen five previous productions of The Full Monty, beginning with the First National Tour, which played at the Ahmanson in 2002, and though I wasn’t initially the show’s biggest fan, I’ve come to appreciate what an all-around terrific musical it is.  The Full Monty has a great book (written by four-time Tony winner McNally) featuring real three-dimensional characters, a jazzy score by Yazbek which recalls the early 70 hits of Chicago (pre-Peter Cetera), and sexy choreography.  It also gives musical theater performers almost a dozen to-die-for roles.

For those who have somehow never seen The Full Monty, the musical centers on six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers who are so in need of cash that, after seeing their wives go gaga for a touring Chippendales show, they decide to stage their own strip extravaganza.  When the working women of Buffalo seem ill-inclined to shell out their hard-earned bucks to see men who are nowhere near as built as the strippers they’re accustomed to, our six heroes decide there’s only one sure way to insure a full house—give their audience The Full Monty.

When a show like The Full Monty becomes a CLO staple following its Broadway run, it’s up to the director, cast, choreographer, and design team to distinguish their production from others which have come before. For me, at least, the biggest pleasure in CLOSBC’s production was seeing Mojica’s many original touches and watching favorite musical theater stars and a few L.A. newcomers make The Full Monty’s roles their own. Add to that a brand new, possibly best-ever, original set design by Christopher Beyries, and CLOSBC has come up with an all-around winner. 

Two performers reprise their roles from MTW’s production.  John Bisom returns as divorced dad Jerry and Mary Jo Catlett is back in the role of Jeanette, the rehearsal pianist with a resumé dating back to Sinatra and his Rat Pack. Both are in fine form indeed, Bisom continuing to be one of our premier musical theater leading men, tall, handsome, a fine singer (listen to his gorgeous “Breeze Off The River”), an ingratiating actor, and a hoofer to boot.  Of Catlett’s previous Ovation Award-nominated performance as Jeanette, I raved “Mary Jo Catlett does what no other Jeanette I’ve seen has been able to do—milk every line for its full laugh potential without even trying. She’s magnificent!”  I can add to that that she sings the hell out of “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.”  (Yes, that’s its title.)

It’s pure pleasure to see Danny Stiles back on our local stages after too long a hiatus.  The Sister Act The Musical scene-stealer brings an added measure of sweetness to Jerry’s best bud Dave, and a real poignancy to his scenes with the ever stellar Michelle Duffy as his loving but frustrated wife Georgie. Duffy is great at whatever she does, and “It’s A Woman’s World” is the perfect showcase for her Vegas belt of a voice. (Too bad Georgie doesn’t get more stage time.)

Of the six steelworkers turned male strippers, the biggest scene stealer of them all is Harrison White as Horse, a “Big Black Man” who can still shake his groove thing with the best of them, despite a few aches and pains. When White belts out the appropriately titled “Big Black Man,” he brings the house down.  New to L.A. stages is the Brad Standley, upping the cuteness factor in his performance as Mama’s boy Malcolm.  Standley has arguably the most beautiful song in the show (“You Walk With Me”) and he sings it with the voice of an angel (or at least what I imagine an angel must sound like).

The dynamic Dave Barrus, recent star of Songs From An Unmade Bed and Great Expectations, does a 180 degree turn-around as Ethan, the wannabe stripper with a fixation on Donald O’Connor’s dancing up the wall in Singin’ In The Rain, a man whose prodigious endowment gets him an immediate spot on the strip squad. August Stoten graduates with flying colors from ensemble to lead as out -of-work foreman Harold, and Misty Cotton sizzles as his wife Vicki, who belts out the samba beats of “Life With Harold.” Completing the leads are spunky young Evan Dye as Jerry’s son Nathan and Sarah Ramsey-Duke as his long-suffering wife Pam. In the role of out-and-proud gay stripper Keno, Mike A. Motroni may well be the best Keno yet, with his sassy line delivery, New York accent, and amazing physique.  Fine support is lent by Leland Burnett, Chris Ciccarelli, Jordan Delp, Stephanie Burkett Gerson, Jessica Gisin, Tricia Kelly, Constance Lopez, Jeremiah Lowder, and Rob Thompson.

Much of the freshness in this Full Monty comes from its director Dan Mojica, who adds countless “they never did that before” moments (e.g. the basketballs in the Act 1 finale) and lots of physical comedy, making this production a bona fide laugh-getter. Choreographer Karen Nowicki gives the cast some great bumps and grinds to execute. Dennis Castellano’s music direction of the CLOSBC’s 12-piece brass-based orchestra is as good as it gets.

Besides Beyries sensational set design, there’s also Darrell J. Clark’s flashy lighting, Christa Armendariz’s eclectic costumes, ranging from blue collar plaid to skin-tight bustiers to Chippendales-style stripware. John Feinstein contributes his accustomed fine sound design.

Those who object to four-letter words are hereby warned: This is the original R-rated book and not the PG-13 version MTW staged.  Also, those with an aversion to male buttocks might feel the need to avert their eyes from time to time.  Fortunately, I mind neither the f-word nor a nice pair of buns, so neither caveat applies to me or just about anyone I know. As for the six male leads, at least half of them are well enough built to belie the lyrics of “The Goods” (“He’s fat, he’s old, he’s skinny, He’s bald, he’s short”) with Barrus particularly possessing a physique to put 95% of Chippendales strippers to shame, so credibility is stretched a tad here.

Ultimately, The Full Monty is a show about family, and family values of the realest kind.  It’s about taking chances, and not taking no for an answer. It’s about being proud of who you are, regardless of how you look or what gender you love.  Add to that the music, dance, comedy, songs, and performances of this stellar cast and you have a Full Monty’s worth of terrific entertainment.  

CLO of South Bay Cities, Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Redondo Beach.

–Steven Stanley
February 17, 2009
                                               Photos: Alysa Brennan

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