Those out-of-work Buffalo factory workers have taken their Chippendales-style strip show to Candlelight Dinner Theater, and the result is the San Gabriel Valley musical theater event of the season.
Despite falling victim to the 2001 Tony Awards juggernaut that was The Producers (and losing all nine of its Tony Award nominations to the Mel Brooks megahit), the David Yazbek-Terrence McNally musical has since then become a regional theater staple, and Candlelight’s topnotch revival makes it amply clear why The Full Monty is such a crowd-pleaser
Helping to make it an audience favorite is a can’t-miss book by four-time Tony winner McNally, a cast of true-to-life three-dimensional characters, a jazzy score by Yazbek which recalls the early 70 hits of Chicago, and sexy, hip-thrusting, pelvis-swiveling 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 cash-strapped unemployed upstate New York steelworkers who, having seen their wives go gaga for a touring Chippendales show, decide to call themselves Hot Metal and stage their very 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.
Louis Pardo is 32-year-old Jerry Lukowski, “out of work, divorced, in debt up to my balls, and if I don’t make some money soon they won’t let me see my kid.” Sharing custody of 12-year-old Nathan (Tanner Davis) with ex-wife Pam (Stephanie Draude), Jerry is behind on child support and in serious danger of losing his son to Georgie’s dutifully-employed live-in lover Reg (Jeremy Magouirk).
Sheldon Robert Morley is Jerry’s best bud Dave Bukatinski, dubbed “fat bastard” for his considerable avoirdupois and so frustrated by days spent defrosting the family refrigerator and vacuuming the Bukatinski living room that he finds himself unable to perform his husbandly duties. All this leaves wife Georgie (Stacy Huntington) wondering what happened to the wonderful man she married and Dave wondering if it’s because his belly has grown in proportion to his financial woes.
Among the would-be strippers recruited for Hot Metal are Momma’s Boy (and self-described “complete loser”) Malcolm MacGregor (Nick Tubbs); Ethan Girard (Kristofer Sundquist), embarrassingly inept at replicating Donald O’Connor’s Singing In The Rain wall-climbing trick and seemingly unaware of what a sweetheart he is; Noah “Horse” T. Simmons (Paul David Bryant), a middle-aged “big black man” whose “break-dancing days are probably over,” but whose presence in Hot Metal is sure to guarantee ticket sales to lovers of men of color; and Harold Nichols (Neil Dale), an out-of-work mill supervisor who’s been hiding his six months of joblessness from his luxury-loving wife Vicki (Jackie Cox).
There’s also male stripper Buddy (Keno) Walsh (Jackson Tobiska) whose pelvis-thrusting, buns-baring solo at the local strip club inspires Jerry to recruit the men henceforth known as Hot Metal, the better to put on that one-night-only strip show and pocket a $50,000 take.
Completing the cast of principal players is rehearsal pianist Jeannette Burmeister (Jennifer Lawson*), a bawdy retiree who brings with her plenty of sass along with story upon story to tell of her checkered showbiz past.
Candlelight regulars are advised that despite the presence of a twelve-year-old character, The Full Monty’s R-rated language and thong-sporting male strippers make it appropriate for adults only. Still, it’s hard to imagine a musical with stronger family values than TFM—if by family values you mean unconditional love, mutual support in times of trouble, and diversity celebrated rather than condemned.
Under John LaLonde’s assured direction and featuring John Vaughan’s sizzling choreography, The Full Monty is Candlelight Dinner Theatre at its most professional, a production blessed by a cast that not only can sing, dance, and act with the best of them, the sextet of triple-threats playing Hot Metal look actually as if they could be the Buffalo blue-collars they’re playing, and not the drop-dead-gorgeous, seriously buff romantic leads that have, rather improbably, played many of these roles in past productions.
Pardo once again proves his versatility as Jerry, investing the role of divorced dad with heart, drive, and parental warmth—and singing “Breeze Off The River” in a gorgeous, soaring tenor. Morley, who himself played Jerry some years back, is equally terrific as Dave, giving us one great big mensch of a guy whether fully dressed or wrapped in saran. In a performance that reveals both Malcolm’s loneliness and his goodness, Tubbs sings with power and clarity, and never more so than when duetting “You Walk With Me” with an equally marvelous Sundquist as the eternally sunny Ethan. Bryant is a bona fide powerhouse as an aging but still vital Horse, and belts out a funky “Big Black Man” to make James Brown proud. Dale brings his trademark twinkle to white-collar Harold, and proves quite the ballroom dancer opposite a vivacious, zesty Cox as wife Vicki. Huntington (Anything Go’s Reno Sweeney) is a foxy, feisty Georgie, Draude gives Pam poignancy and depth, 13-year-old Davis is the son any dad or mom would be proud to call their own, and classically sculpted Tobiska makes Keno far more than a gay stereotype.
Chelsea Emma Franko (Susan), Michaelia Leigh (Estelle), and Jessica Mason (Joanie) are sensational triple-threats each and every one, while Edward Chamberlain (Minister), Jeremiah Concepcion (Tony). Paul J. Lange (Teddy), and Magouirk (Reg) do all-around tiptop work as well. Last but most definitely not least is the scene-stealing Lawson*, not afraid to be big, loud, and bold as Jeanette, a role she invests with abundant pep and pizzazz, stopping the show with “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.”
Musical director Douglas Austin’s ample contributions are reflected in the cast’s uniformly fine vocal performances, and if there is no live band backstage, you wouldn’t know it by the live-sounding tracks backing up these vocals.
Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse’s set design may not be National Tour caliber, but it has a great industrial look and more than does the job. SteveGDesign’s lighting design knows when to be subtle and realistic and when to be bright and bold. Jenny Wentworth scores high marks for her many costumes, from Keno’s stripper gear to the unemployed Buffalonians’ factory wear to the women’s blue-collar glam. Logan Grosjean is stage manager.
Families with children will doubtless be relieved to hear that next up for Candlelight is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King And I. In the meantime, leave the kids at home and enjoy The Full Monty’s celebration of American workers meeting economic challenges in the most ingenious and entertaining of ways.
For scrumptious dining and marvelous musical theater, it doesn’t get better than Candlelight.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
*The role of Jeanette will be played by Beth Mendoza on June 8, 13, 14, and 16
May 18, 2013
Photos: John LaLonde, except top, by Isaac James Creative