Mackie's Review of the New Production
The Ogunquit Playhouse finished off its season with the show that started it (excluding the pre-season Menopause revival.) Before I go into the review proper, I should clarify that during the first run, I was not a huge fan of this show. In fact, it was my least favorite of the season due to several factors- the length (3 plus hours) was too long, the lead actor, while competent, seemed too pretty for the role, and his character was too unsympathetic to really root for. When I heard of several cast changes for this fall revival, I figured I would give it another chance, but this time at a matinee.
Entering into with relatively low expectations, I was surprised what a few cast changes and a different time slot can do to raise a production’s value. While still clocking in at over 3 hours, the actual production seemed to flow a lot more smoothly and entertain more than before. (Granted, last time I saw this was opening night in June.) The actors play off each other more, adding little tidbits and nuances to their various roles. (Sally Struthers especially milked the camp factor of her “chronologically gifted” piano player. Her jab at senior citizens being a great audience really got the crowd going.) The choreography was also more polished and natural. (Kudos to Kingley Leggs and his fabulous audition for the Monty Guys.)
While I thought the acting was decent the first time I saw this play, I was much more drawn into the new additions to the cast. Michael Halling, while fit and thin, has a more wiry framed body, which matched his character’s rough-around-the-edges nature. Kingley Leggs, and Adrian Zmed- both also new to this production- also had bodies that looked real for their roles. They played off returning Monty dancers Richard Barth, Joe Coots and Nick Dalton very well. Susan Powell, whose ditzy antics in La Cage Aux Folles had me in giggles, returns for another not-quite-predictable wife role adding her own flare and touches. (I loved the comment about her nosy neighbor.) Added pleasure came from watching the antics of the man-hungry ladies (including Merril Peiffer and Megan Wean) treating their dancer (Todd Dubail) like a juicy slice of sirloin.
The Full Monty runs until October 6th, with both matinee and evening productions available on selected days. As a matinee, it works great to entertain after a good lunch or before a tasty dinner downtown. The changes make it worth the trip.
It's so good to be back at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It's their 75th season, with more shows, bigger shows, and bigger stars. In past years the season has started right about now, but this year it started 3 weeks ago with the return of Menopause - The Musical. It will continue at least 3 weeks longer, too, with a return of The Full Monty in September and October, which means that there will be plenty of opportunities to see this show - but see it sooner, rather than later, in case you want to see it again.
A show that starts out with a male stripper (played very convincingly by Todd DuBail) can't be all bad. The plot is pretty easily summarized: several unemployed men decide to become strippers. In theory, they're ordinary, even funny looking guys. It's theatre, of course, so the clumsy one (Nick Dalton) has really nice arms, the "ugly" one (Richard Barth) is downright adorable - his rendition of "You Walk With Me" sneaks up on you and steals the second act, the inconviently nicknamed Horse (Milton Craig Nealy) has these incredible dance moves, and even the "old" guy (Joe Deliger), well, doesn't look too bad without a shirt on.
The wisp of a sub-plot involves the two best friends who have the idea to put on a show - Hunter Foster (now the toast of broadway and for good reason - mild demeanor, stage presence and a voice that won't quit make an amazing combination) and Joe Coots (endearing in that Jim Belushi kind of way) and the marital difficulties with their wives/ex wives. The wives are played by Krista Sutton and Happy McPartlin in that struggling, my husband's a bum but what can I do, kind of way. "It's a Woman's World" gives them a chance to show off their singing voices a little, but unfortunately the women don't sing much in The Full Monty. Another wife, most fortunately played by Gretchen Goldsworthy (whom I've loved and have been looking for - in a non-stalking kind of way - since last season's Beehive), gets an entire song (and parts of others) to herself, which, of course, she handles beautifully.
So. All of this (several unemployed men decide to become strippers) goes on for over an hour. And then Sally Struthers arrives and changes everything. I'm not sure if it is because she's such a pro, or because the audience loves her so much, but the energy level picked up considerably. As usual, just watching her is like a master class in acting comedy. The one song she sings steals the show. All I can say is, welcome back to Ogunquit, Sally, and it's great to have you!
Overall, the production quality is very high. The scenery (by Richard Ellis) is meant to look like a steel mill, and definitely captures the dreariness of Buffalo. Everything is kind of metal and a rusty red. I really wanted Buffalo to become somehow brighter and less dreary as the men's self esteem improved, and that didn't really happen, although the lighting (by Richard Latta) suggested it. Costume designer James E. Crochet gets a special nod for making the g-strings bright red, somehow suggesting that the crotches of steel workers are the only bright spots in a very dreary place. A sentiment that's hard to argue with.
Director Keith Andrews tries mightily to keep the action moving, with effectively no waiting for scene changes, and the dance numbers, especially Michael Jordan's Ball and Let It Go, work well. It was either opening night jitters or a major pacing problem, but I couldn't figure out why a show with so little plot (several unemployed men decide to become strippers) and only 13 songs clocked in at over 3 hours.
If you want to see a play where several unemployed men decide to become strippers, and, let's face it, we all do, check out The Full Monty.
As I sat in the audience, watching an actor (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the male lead on "Angel" and "Bones") strut his stuff in a g-string, the following thought crossed my mind.
"Hmm, this is a promising opening for the Playhouse this season."
The Full Monty kicks off the Ogunquit Playhouse’s 75th season this week and back to sweeten the deal is Sally Struthers. (Gay strippers and Struthers = pretty much covering the demands of most of the playhouse’s core fans.) Having seen the movie years back, I went into the show with a basic understanding of the plot. (Six unemployed, traditionally unprovocative- looking factory workers, in need of cash, decide to prove to their community that they can be successful as the rural version of Chippendales.) This being a musical comedy, there are (of course) lots of hi-jinx and detours on their chosen path to fame.
So, is this quality gay entertainment? Here’s where I have to clarify something- while the play follows the movie well (and in some cases, deepens the subplots) the basic premise is a bit hard to buy with the cast. To put it bluntly, they are too attractive and come off as too talented in the beginning to make the transformation very believable. (Think what “Queer as Folks” did to portray Pittsburgh). Unlike the movie version, where it would be generous to say the cast looked average, most of these men have bodies better than some professional strippers I have seen. ("Horse", the 60 year old black man, has a more defined body than some guys half his age. The "ugly pigeon-chested redhead" played by Richard Barth is downright hot. You get the idea…). To reinforce this point you are treated to a nice, long view of them in their skivvies during their rehearsal at their former boss’s house as a teaser for their routine in the final act.
As for Sally Struthers, her annual return to the Playhouse is welcome, as always and she breathes a lot of fresh air into the minor supporting part of the wise-cracking, chain-smoking, hoarse coughing, seen-it-all-before piano player who comes across as both crusty and lovable. The only problem with having her in this part is that she shines so much that you want to see more of her antics, which both detracts from the main plot and extends its running time. (Opening night, it started around 8:15 and was over around 11:15. Some of this was due to the beginning of the season announcements, but still was rather long to stay focused on the show.) The advantage of having her on stage will continue to draw people in to see her beloved comic talents but may leave some people feeling cheated by her limited stage time. (Her character doesn’t show up until over an hour into the show, where as in the past, she has been the main player in all of her shows here, keeping the audience enthralled with her charisma and gentle charms.
On the plus side, the stage decorations were impressive and helped portray the run-down nature of Buffalo well. Also, the production was free of any major technical problems- the only noticeably issue- involving a bathroom door- was assimilated into the plot with some quick thinking by cast members Hunter Foster and Joe Coots. Most interestingly, the gay positive themes in the show were wide spread and enjoyable. In addition to the touching (if underplayed) romance between two of the more shy dancers, there is a great scene where a professional stripper stands up to the lead (Hunter Foster) when called a fairy, proving that he knows how to use those pretty muscles to defend himself. (Who hasn’t relished that fantasy?) And, of course, if you like buns, you will get several peaks at them during the show. Just bring your sunglasses if you want to actually see the “Full Monty” finale.
At the Ogunquit Playhouse, June 12-30, and again September 18-October 6. For tickets call 207.646.5511, or book online 24 hours a day at http://www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.