To all eager readers, yes you get a glimpse of naked men, but the surprising strength of The Full Monty isn’t in the stripping of clothes, but rather in the stripping of the pride and dignity of it’s unemployed and emasculated steelworkers. This blue collar group, lead by Nick Sacks as Jerry, carries the charisma of a faded high school football star, decides to regain their respect, money, and self-worth they will transform themselves into strippers for a one-night only event. I don’t know what it is about steel working and stripping that go so well together (I’m looking at you Jennifer Beals), but I’m not complaining.
The Full Monty is a wildly underrated show that’s cunningly effective in it’s ability to make you root for these characters. The CMU School of Drama’s production had me rooting. Any taboo feelings are dispelled immediately as a rowdy Erika Olson, one of the few but electric women, emcees a “professional” striptease. This leaves the audience enticed to follow the men from chumps to small-town Chippendales.
Each actor does a succinct and individualistic job at crafting their characters. They play to their own strengths as a means to enhance their impact. Josh Grosso as the still-lives-in-his-mom’s-basement, Malcolm is pure, warped, and triumphant with soaring vocals even after extreme carbon monoxide inhalation. The renaissance of disco finds itself in Avery Smith’s portrayal of Horse, the oldest yet funkiest member of the group. Molly Griggs is a crotchety comedic wonder as their piano player, Jeanette. The sheer power of the production resides in it’s pop-rock and jazz influenced musical numbers like “Big-Ass Rock”, “Big Black Man”, and “Michael Jordan’s Ball” conducted by Thomas W. Douglas.
Patrick Hayes’ lighting design when paired with Lex Gernon’s scenic design propels their underdog, industrial reality to a rock star fantasy.The scenic design works as a stationary image, the powerful work lights and steel beams, but the conveyor belt used to move set pieces hinders the transitions, causing them to lose steam. Nina Bova’s costumes cement the late 1980s vibe in an effortless manner.
Director and CMU Alum, Patrick Wilson, understands the tone of the show immensely well. Reasonably so, as Wilson lead the original production on Broadway. His own experience of once being where the cast is, enhances the personal moments of the show.
Authenticity is what makes this show so powerful. Having college students play these adult male and child roles, lowers the intensity of their examination of masculinity and pride in the face of how far they will go (or take off) to get it back. Micheal Leadbetter as the overweight Dave is restricted by a seemingly deflated fat suit, that turns his potentially compelling arc into a cheap, coarse joke. Regardless, The CMU School of Drama’s production of The Full Monty knows where its limitations are and works even harder to have you blushing, cheering, and sincerely entertained.
Special thank to the Carnegie Mellon University’s Drama department for complimentary press tickets. The Full Monty runs at CMU until February 27th.