Salisbury Press

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Theater Review: 'Full Monty' delivers at Pa. Playhouse

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 by DEB BOYLAN Special to The Press in Focus

Perhaps one of the most anticipated endings in a play, "The Full Monty," continuing through June 14, Pennsylvania Playhouse, 390 Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem, will have audiences asking themselves, "Will they or won't they?"

"The Full Monty" is an Americanized stage adaptation of the wildly-successful low-budget 1997 British film of the same name. The book by Terence McNally and music and lyrics by David Yazbek stay true to the central plot points of the film.

While the play is set in Buffalo, N.Y., it could easily be Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, of a not too distant past. The steel mill is shutting down and the workers are collecting their final checks. The mood is somber and the outlook for future employment is bleak.

The men are feeling emasculated and like "Scrap," the first number in Act One. The women, while frustrated with their men, are feeling more empowered as they collectively declare in "It's A Woman's World."

The economy in the Buffalo of "The Full Monty" may be drying up but the touring Chippendales troupe is cleaning up locally, selling 1,000 tickets a performance at $50 a head.

Much to the dismay of Jerry Lukowski (Seth Rohrbach) and his best buddy Dave Bukatinsky (Chip Rohrbach), they discover the women in their lives are perhaps the best customers of the Chippendales dancers. Dave's wife Georgie (Jen Hartshorne-Hesketh) even goes as far as organizing "girls night out" trips to the shows.

Of course, the rest of the tale is the classic "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" storyline with Jerry, Dave and four other downtrodden locals and self-appointed stage manager Jeanette Burmeister (Lucille Kincaid) deciding to put on their own striptease to raise money for child support, life's luxuries and mainly a sense of purpose.

"The Full Monty" is bawdy fun. It's intended for mature audiences, and is the perfect destination for an adult-only night out. There are more than a few bare derrieres, so if you blush easily, come out anyhow and let loose.

Much like the central characters, "The Full Monty" is more than what's on the surface. Uncovered as the play progresses, the characters experience fears most everyone in the audience can relate to.

There is insecurity, financial and otherwise, about body image, child-support, economic despair and false stereotypes such as when Noah "Horse" T. Simmons (Daniel Melo), an African-American, is assumed to be a "Big Black Man."

Director-Choreographer Bill Mutimer has done a fabulous job in ensuring the characters have heart. The audience will laugh at this band of underdogs as they come together to perform an unlikely task. The audience will also cheer for them and see perhaps a bit of themselves in one or more of the main players.

The characters could easily end up playing their roles over the top, but Mutimer directs with a gentle hand as he balances the humor and physical comedy while keeping the performance from becoming a farce.

Mutimer's choreography is as essential to the success of this play as is his direction and he nails both 100 percent. This is a play where a great deal of the action is conveyed through song and dance.

Music Director Tony Moore and the orchestra handle the 16 numbers in the two-act play with ease.

Costume Designer Brenda McGuire and Set Designer Brett Oliveira evoke the feel of a rust-belt steel town. There's even a nod to local history via a couple of Lehigh Structural Steel bowling shirts.

"The Full Monty" operates on many levels: there's song and dance, comedy and contemporary issues, but ultimately this is a tale about love. The married characters love their spouses; and in Jerry's case, he still loves his ex-wife Pam (Lori Sivick) and their streetwise son Nathan (Harrison Bernhard).

There is even a budding relationship between fellow factory workers turned strippers Ethan Girard (Stephen Krock) and Malcolm MacGregor (Sawyer Long) that provides a touching moment in the second act during their performance of "You Walk With Me."

They also learn their spouses still love them despite their flaws or setbacks and they also learn to love themselves as well as one another. Ex-plant manager Harold Nichols (Keith Moser) discovers he doesn't need to keep his wife Vicki (Denise Long) surrounded by material trappings. She lets him know how she feels in their reprise of "You Rule My World."

So, in the end, regardless of the answer to that nagging question; "Will they or won't they?," Pennsylvania Playhouse and "The Full Monty" deliver "The Goods."