The Full Monty

30623930_10155414410856696_6463687886536441856_nNailed It! is a competition show in which amateur bakers compete to win fast cash by recreating intricate desserts originally crafted by professional bakers. What they end up with is usually more of a hilarious fail than a true culinary feat, hence the ironic title.

At the top of each episode, the contestants introduce themselves via a short voice over and montage. We learn a little about their lives and what has brought them to this bizarre game show. In Pittsburgh CLO’s The Full Monty, another show in which amateurs shamelessly and hilariously try to imitate professionals, this moment comes in the opening number “Scrap”.

As laid-off steel mill workers in Buffalo, New York collect their unemployment checks, they lament their empty lives and the sad circumstances that have brought them to this low point. We follow handsome, prideful divorcee Jerry Lukowski (Andy Kelso) and his overweight, insecure best friend Dave Bukatinsky (Matt Dewberry) as they walk home past a male strip club. Their ennui becomes jealousy when they sneak into the club and bare witness to way women worship the dancers who perform there.

Anita Gillette, Randy Donaldson and Andy Kelso

Anita Gillette, Randy Donaldson, and Andy Kelso

Inside the club’s bathroom, they overhear Jerry’s ex-wife Pam telling Dave’s wife Georgie that she plans to take Jerry to court for the back child support he owes her for their son Nathan. Georgie relates to Pam’s regret over her failed marriage because hers is hanging on by a thread thanks to Dave’s lack of physical affection. Armed with their bruised egos and the testimony of a working male stripper about the extreme profitability of the business, Jerry and Dave (more reluctantly so) resolve that if they can’t wear the metaphorical pants in their relationships, that they’ll take off their literal pants for a one night only performance at the club to make a quick buck. [the_ad id=”7283″]

After a setup like that, hilarity should ensue. But under Barry Ivan’s direction, misogyny and homophobia ultimately prevail. The lion’s share of the blame for that development lies with the men who developed the show from the 1997 Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name. Book writer Terrence McNally and composer/lyricist David Yazbek (recent Tony winner for The Band’s Visit) have created something that I’m surprised to know garnered 10 Tony nominations—even in the less body positive, less female empowered, less sensitive to mental illness, less LGBTQIA friendly world of 2001.

Mel Brooks’ juggernaut The Producers ultimately trounced The Full Monty in every category, and I believe that’s partly because its broadly stereotyped characters are employed in service of cutting satire rather than low brow sitcom humor. Instead of sharpening Monty’s fleeting moments of true hilarity, Ivan dulls them by choreographing repetitive physical gags around them. His production does not bat an eye at Jerry and Dave’s bigoted assertion that all male strippers are “fairies” and therefore not real men. There is no nuance brought to their maddening refusal to take jobs at Walmart or in Pam’s factory because they deem it demeaning “woman’s work”.

Jessica Ice, Natalie Charle Ellis, Katie Anderson and Cam eron Anika Hill

Jessica Ice, Natalie Charle Ellis, Katie Anderson and Cameron Anika Hill

Jerry and Dave’s abject selfishness prevented me from taking their touching moments with their loved ones too seriously, but Kelso and Dewberry bring excellent vocals and a lot of much-needed warmth to the show with “Breeze Off the River” and “You Rule My World”, respectively. Their camaraderie with the other four members of their “Hot Metal” act Harold (John Hickok), Ethan (a delightfully ditzy Dan DeLuca), Malcolm (Kevin Massey), and Horse (Randy Donaldson) is infectious as they all take the long personal journey from fully clothed to full monty.

Women take a back seat in this show, but female camaraderie is just as much of a driving force here as male friendship is. If women weren’t visiting the strip club in droves, poor Jerry and Dave would’ve been forced to find normal 9 to 5 gigs.

John Hickok,Kevin Massey, Dan DeLuca,Randy Donaldson and Matt_Newberry

John Hickok, Kevin Massey, Dan DeLuca, Randy Donaldson and Matt_Newberry

Uproarious performances from Natalie Charle Ellis (Georgie) and 30 Rock’s Anita Gillette (Hot Metal’s wise cracking pianist Jeanette) dilute the toxic masculinity that pervades the show. They get all of the script’s best jokes and are living proof that women are uniquely powerful sexual beings rather than just genteel versions of their lascivious male counterparts.

I have to close by applauding the men in The Full Monty. The undeniable confidence of those in the ensemble who had to bare it all was remarkable. It’s clear that they’re having as much fun as their admirers in the audience are. Regardless of their shapes, sizes, or ages, they successfully whip the crowd into a frenzy every time they tear away one of Robert Morgan’s playful costumes. The eye-popping finale transforms the stately Benedum Center into a raucous den of sin as Jerry and the gang (dressed as cops, of course) disrobe in front of John Arnone’s spangled backdrop.

The raunchy song will probably get stuck in your head, but it’s not your little sister’s “Let It Go”.

Pittsburgh CLO’s The Fully Monty plays through July 15th at the Benedum Center. For tickets and more information, click here.

Photos by Matt Polk



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