The premise of “The Full Monty”— not unlike so many other Broadway shows — is a bit of a stretch.
A group of unemployed Buffalo steel workers decide to put on a strip act at a local club after seeing their wives go crazy for a performance by the Chippendales. It’s a sure thing, their leader Jerry concludes, because they can go all the way, “the full Monty.”
Thanks to Terrence McNally’s adaptation of the 1997 British movie, what these men lack in pecs and abs and glutes is more than made up with heart. One by one, we’re introduced to the saps who would be studs: Jerry Lukowski (Preston Ellis), the deadbeat dad fighting for his son; Dave Bukatinsky (J.P. Sarro), an overweight slob whose self-esteem is in the dumps; Harold Nichols (Barry Tarallo), their former boss who got the ax himself; unlikely lovers Malcom MacGregor (Alex Jorth) and Ethan Girard (Regan McLellan); and “Horse” Simmons (Reggie Whitehead), a geriatric black man whose nickname is just a little hyped over you know what.
With their feisty, foul mouthed pianist, Jeannette (Leslie Anne Wolfe), they prepare for the show, working through their fears, anxieties and inner demons and build bonds that will help them each achieve happiness.
The opening act is not unlike “A Chorus Line” as each character is introduced with autobiographical musical numbers from composer and lyricist David Yazbek. They equate themselves to “Scrap” in the opening song as they collect their employment checks.
Horse steals the show with his number, “Big Black Man,” demonstrating he still has all the right moves, despite his age, taking the audience through an R&B infused number laced with the Funky Chicken, Mashed Potato and Twist.
In an attempt to overcome their clumsiness, the team turns to sports to help them master the choreography in “Michael Jordan’s Ball.” In her torch song, the gritty Jeannette promises the men “It can only get better.”
Thanks to stage direction from Dom Ruggiero, Ellis and his co-stars are immediately likeable, the ultimate key to selling this show. The audience is pulling for them from the start as the seemingly simple plot gets more and more convoluted.
Yazbek’s score is not easy, but the gentlemen shine under the musical direction of Michael Ursua, despite the challenges of singing to a recorded accompaniment track peppered with tricky pauses and syncopated entrances. The ladies in the cast, particularly Kara Staiger and Casey Weems as Dave and Harold’s respective wives, had more difficulty finding and matching pitches in their numbers than the men.
As can be expected from a theater company with an in-house costume museum, the costume design from Linda C. Shorrock hits the late ‘80s/early ‘90s blue collar aesthetic perfectly, especially in the women’s outfits. And, extremely flexible scenery from Gateway Playhouse, largely constructed from welded steel, corrugated metal and mesh panels, perfectly evokes the battered landscape of Rust Belt-era Buffalo.
At the time the musical first went to Broadway, the country had largely recovered from the recession of the early 1990s. Today, nearly two decades later, it’s still relevant in a time of high unemployment following the Great Recession. The domestic steel industry of the northeast is gone, but the sentiment of hard times is still there. Fortunately, The Wick’s production provides plenty of hope.
If You Go
“The Full Monty – The Broadway Musical”
Thursday – Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m. through March 23
Complimentary valet parking available.
The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton
Tickets $58 at TheWick.org