Posted on Mon, Sep. 17, 2007

 

This stripped-down production works

By Howard Shapiro

Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

 

Pity poor costume designer Nancy McClain. Nobody comes to the Montgomery Theater to see the street clothes she uses to dress the cast of The Full Monty. Nobody comes to see clothes at all.

The show, a musical derived from the 1997 movie of the same name, is all about wearing nothing. Can six laid-off steel-mill workers make a wad of money in a one-night-only striptease that draws 'em in by promising local everyday guys in the total buff?

Everything about The Full Monty (the no-frontal production's really The Full Moon) leads up to that will-they-or-won't-they scene, although several subplots give the show a nice texture and some thoughtfully written songs.

The Full Monty is being done with a minimalist set on the small stage of the theater in Souderton, Montgomery County. When needed, a fake door appears to the side of the multilevel stage, and a bathroom stall moves in for a scene - and that's about it. You cast your full attention, as a result, on the performers. They play in front of open archways, which separate them from the orchestra at the rear of the stage.

It works. The endearing cast of down-on-their-luck guys and the women who endure them is bright and fleet and uses the versatile playwright Terrence McNally's (Master Class, Some Men, Love! Valor! Compassion!) script to build singular characters. The small playing space for 18 actors in 24 roles seems confining in the first act. By the second act, which has keener repartee, better musical numbers (music and lyrics by David Yazbek, who went on to score Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), and a plot that's by now spinning, it's easy to accept the physical limitations.

Most of The Full Monty - whose stage version moves the plot from Sheffield, England, to Buffalo - is carried by the six guys as they plan their Chippendales knockoff - particularly the ringleader, played vulnerably and sung with style by John Allen Biles. The cast has some fine voices - among them the strong David Friday, James C. Roberts in a funny number about becoming a black stripper, and the robust tenor Jonathan Shade.

Shade teams up with another excellent singer, John Anker Bow, for an especially moving song at a funeral, and Tom Orr is perfectly clueless as a laid-off manager who tries to teach everyone to dance. The best lines go to Mickey Goldhaber, playing the stripper's pianist, who knows how to deliver them in a running commentary on the scheme. I saw the show Saturday night, when the orchestra's brass needed to stand out more and Nicholas Matthew Giove, the show's grade-schooler, was a bit flat in his delivery. Still, he is charming throughout, just like the production.


The Full Monty

Written by Terrence McNally, music and lyrics by David Yazbek, directed by Tom Quinn, set by Jason Kramer, choreographed by Natalie Williamson, costumes by Nancy McClain, lighting by Peter D. Leonard, sound by Brian S. Weis, musical direction by Kirsten Olson. Presented by Montgomery Theater.

The cast: John Allen Biles (Jerry), David Friday (Dave), Jonathan Shade (Malcolm), John Anker Bow (Ethan), James C. Roberts (Horse), Tom Orr (Harold), Mickey Goldhaber (Jeanette), Kaylan Wetzel (Pam), J.J. Orgera (Georgie), Nicholas Matthew Giove (Nathan).

Playing at Montgomery Theater, 124 Main St., Souderton, through Oct. 6. Tickets: $16-$24 and sold out; the box office is maintaining a waiting list. Information: 215-723-9984 or www.montgomerytheater.org.


Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com