Taking it all off: Baring hearts (and more) in ‘The Full Monty’ at the Backstage Theatre | SummitDaily.com

Taking it all off: Baring hearts (and more) in ‘The Full Monty’ at the Backstage Theatre

by Alex Miller
Summit Daily News
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

The gimmick worked by the unemployed steelworkers of “The Full Monty” as they prepare a Chippendales-style show in a desperate bid to earn some cash is that they’re going to show off their johnsons. As Rep. Anthony Weiner might tell us, though, generally the women who count in a man’s life are a lot more interested in seeing his heart.

Yes, for all the hoopla surrounding the “full monty” (a British expression that roughly translates to “the whole enchilada”), this fun yet affecting musical now playing at the Backstage Theatre in Breckenridge has a lot more to say about marriage, fatherhood, friendship and what it means to be a man than it does about the life of a male stripper. It’s a big, bold, funny show in the theater’s small space, which means there’s no hiding from the jiggling bellies, undulating man boobs and all the things a G-string fails to hide. In other words, if you’re looking for an in-your-face musical comedy, this is it.

Based on a 1997 British film of the same name, the musical was created in 2000 with a book by Terrence McNally (“Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!”). Reset in Buffalo, N.Y., the musical tells the tale of Jerry Lukowski (Seth Caikowski), the victim of a shuttered mill and mounting child support payments. After observing his ex and her friends shelling out big bucks to attend a strip show, he convinces his BFF Dave (Scott Rathbun) they could raise a pile of dough doing a similar show. Whereas in the original film the main character bullies his friends into the act, Jerry’s approach is a whinier, more guilt-induced offensive that nevertheless works: Before long he has his cast of six, and rehearsals begin with just two weeks before the big show.

Preposterous, yes, but there’s no doubt “The Full Monty” resonates more realistically in these dark times for employment. What wouldn’t a man do to keep his son in his life? This is no get-rich-quick scheme: Jerry has to pay that back child support to keep his son Nathan (Logan Weinman) in his life. Of the other five men, we get to know three of them pretty well: Dave is the “fat bastard” whose the most self-conscious about his appearance; Malcolm (Mark Middlebrooks) is the suicidal closeted gay who lives with his mom; and Harold (Robert Hubbard) is the mill supervisor, also laid-off, who can’t bear to tell his wife he can no longer afford to buy her stuff. Rounding out “Hot Steel” is Horse (Robert Johnson), “the big black man” who can actually sing and dance, and Ethan (Alejandro Roldan), whose sole attributes are a large package and a can-do attitude.

Of them all, we’re drawn most to the story of Dave and his wife, Georgie (Cailin Doran). It’s fascinating to watch Dave struggle with his image problems against the backdrop of a society where beautiful bodies are represented as the ultimate goal. Georgie enjoys the professional strip show she attends with her friends as much as the rest, but when Dave spills the beans about Hot Steel and asks “Who wants to see this?”, she responds “I do.” Rathbun is wonderful in this role, a real man who, in his normality, speaks to the majority of men who’ll never pose for an underwear ad and who eventually learns to be at peace with that. He and Doran create a wholly believable marriage that falters and heals throughout the course of the show.

Also interesting to watch are Hubbard and his wife, Vicki (Margie Lamb) as the white-collar couple struggling to maintain their lifestyle. Like Dave, Harold discovers his wife wasn’t as concerned with trifles and appearances as he imagined. One of the best scenes takes place in their living room where the guys rehearse taking off their clothes for the first time. Flipping through a Victoria’s Secret catalog in the middle of rehearsal, they make some typical guy comments about the models and wonder if that’s how women will see them when they bare all. They get their answer as the wives and other women join them in a fantasy sequence where their not-so-perfect bods are judged in the harshest terms.

Rounding out the cast are Lisa Finnerty as Jerry’s long-suffering ex; Judy Wyatt as Jeanette, the saucy old piano player with plenty of experience with men and music; Alanna Moore, Meghan McMahon and Kristi Siedow-Thompson as ensemble/town chicks; Paul Bach as the pro stripper Keno; and Jimmy Miller as Teddy Slaughter and others. (Susie Leiser plays Jeanette July 21-24.)

For all its silliness, “The Full Monty” is that rare bit of entertainment that honestly tackles the feelings of men, both as they relate to their spouses and as they relate to themselves. It’s not easy for guys to go beyond being guys and talking of superficial stuff, but here “the full monty” refers to a true stripping away – not only of clothes but of much of the artifice men – and women – construct around themselves. When we do finally get to the big moment (and don’t worry, it’s tactfully done so no “Weinergate” scandal will descend upon Breckenridge), the men have done such good work in other areas that it’s no longer such a big deal. When the lights go down, we have a pretty good idea things will soon be looking up for the men of Hot Steel as well as their families.

Director Christopher Willard, who also plays a few small roles, has outdone himself assembling a strong cast (of mostly Denver players) and successfully pulling together a big, busy musical on a small stage. Don’t miss it, but leave the kids at home for this one.

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