The North Shore Music Theatre reopens it's newly renovated home in Beverly after their tragic fire on July 14 with the smash hit musical,"The Full Monty". With a book by Tony Award winner Terrence McNally ("Ragtime" & "Kiss of the Spiderwoman") and music and lyrics by pop composer David Yazbek ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), "The Full Monty" is based on the record-breaking 1997 Academy Award nominated hit film by the same name. McNally changes the locale from England to Buffalo, NY in the stage show and is the raucous, heartfelt story of six unemployed steelworkers who go to great lengths to make some cash and help out a friend in trouble who might lose joint custody of his son. When a local male strip show, whose dancers venture down to G-strings, is a hit with the local women, the cash-strapped factory workers figure they can really cash in if they go "the full Monty." The buddies, desperate for self-respect, must overcome their fears, their nerves, and their clothes for a shot at success. Director/choreographer Barry Ivan who has been working at NSMT for 10 years, casts his 21 performers perfectly in their roles, creating a splendid high energy extravaganza to reopen this award winning theater. Barry sums up the message of this show, "In this show, people who are down on their luck and who have suffered losses can transform themselves into winners. They find a way to sparkle despite their ineptitudes and ordinariness. And ultimately they succeed". Barry and his cast and crew are anything but ordinary and they succeed in making this show a firecracker celebration of theatrical entertainment with fantastic acting, singing and dancing their way into the hearts of the audience with its expert mixture of comic and poignant moments along the way, earning it a spontaneous standing ovation at the curtain call.
Barry's blocking of this big cast is wonderful, too. He makes the theater in the round audience be able to see what's going on in each scene. His casting of each of the roles is excellent and as McNally says "it's also about an image-obsessed society that says you have to look like Brad Pitt and this show says the opposite, it celebrates everybody for exactly who they are." (Special mention has to be made of one of the performers who plays the "professional stripper" in this show. Not having read Dan Puck's bio before the show, I assumed as did other people around me that Dan was a professional stripper brought in for this show because of his fabulous physique and expert gyrations with girls. However Dan who is even better looking than Brad Pitt is a real actor who trained himself to look like he stepped out of a Chippendale's calendar. Great casting that fooled some of the audience members.) Barry's comic moments are hilarious but it is in obtaining the crowd's tears in the poignant moments that give this script the hidden strength it needs. His dance numbers range from the striptease in "Let It Go" to athletic basketball type training in "Michael Jordan's Ball" to a Latin dance in "Life With Harold" to the soul dance in "Big Black Man". The women's group dances in "It's a Woman's World" where they use the men's bathroom and "The Goods" where they check out the men's assets are topnotch,too.Musical director Dale Rieling makes this jazzy pop score soar with his orchestra and the vocalists. Showstopping numbers include "Big Black Man" and "Jeanette's Showbiz Number" as well as the final "Full Monty" strip in "Let it Go". A wonderful harmonic choral part by the men stands out in the raucous Projection screens around the theater help move the audience from scene to scene and the stage crew moves the set pieces on and off with ease like they did 15 years ago. (The electronic equipment was stuck in customs in Canada and as the old saying goes, "The show must go on".)
The dynamic male lead of this show is Darren Ritchie as Jerry Lukowski. Jerry is a man's man as he explains in the song "Man" with the Marlboro theme as part of the song which shows off Darren's tenor rock voice. However he shows his tender side when he deals with his son not in his language but in his not wanting to relinquish joint custody of the boy. Darren's moving ballad about his son called "Breeze Off the River" shows off his mellower tones which move the audience to tears. His acting shines through with the other cast members with his thuggish behavior but it is his son who finally gives him a kick in the ass to grow up and become a great father who finally sees something through for the first time in his life. Craig Bennett plays Jerry's best friend, the overweight Dave Bukatinsky. He shows his strong acting ability as this underdog guy who the crowd roots for. Craig's dynamite voice is heard with Darren's in "Man", in "Big-Ass Rock" which is a funny suicide stopping song about different ways to kill yourself and in the gorgeous duet about his wife called "You Rule My World". He does an excellent job as does Sebastian Arcelus as the good looking, airhead, Ethan Girard. Ethan proclaims he can't sing or dance but drops his pants to show off the goods that the ladies want and he continually runs into walls trying to imitate Donald O'Connor which leaves Ethan unconscious on the floor. However Sebastian is a fantastic singer and dancer in real life and gets to show off his strong tenor voice in group numbers and especially in "You Walk With Me" a duet with Bill English who plays Malcolm, the mama's boy who tries to kill himself by leaving his car running with him in it. Bill is humorous as this klutzy guy who tries to fit it with the others and shows us pathos in his duet with Sebastian while showing off his beautiful tenor voice. Milton Craig Nealy is a hoot as Horse who stops the show with "Big Black Man" number while doing the jerk, the monkey and other crazy dances with his bum hip. His strong baritone voice rocks the theater and his comic curmudgeon steals many a scene. Another scene stealer is Merle Louise as Jeanette who is the pianist who tries to help the guys get into stripping shape with her music. She has some of the funniest one liners in the show and she makes everyone of them count. Having seen Merle in "Sweeney Todd" on Broadway in 1979, it is great to see her have a showstopping number in 2005 with the Things Could Be Better Round Here lyrics from "Jeanette's Showbiz Number". as she struts her stuff.
George Dvorsky plays Harold who's wife, Vicki is a dance teacher. He becomes a member of their troupe trying to teach them how to dance while trying to hide that he lost his job from his wife. George gets to show off his wonderful tenor voice in the duet with Craig. Deborah Tranelli plays Vicki who gets to dance in her solo "Life With Harold" and in the touching ballad "You Rule My World" reprise with Susan Fletcher who plays Dave's wife, Georgie who runs the professional stripclub. Susan handles the transition wonderfully from funny, upbeat wife to caring and accepting wife by the close of the show as does Deborah in her role, too. Beth Beyer plays the role of Jerry's unsympathetic ex-wife, Pam who demands he get a job to pay child support, making the most of her scenes. The youngest member of this cast is Christian Johansen who has been acting since he was four years old and hasn't stopped performing since then. He plays Jerry's son, Nathan who is more mature than his father. Christian delivers a strong performance in this role, appearing natural and confident with much older actors. Unfortunately he doesn't get a chance to show off his fantastic singing voice in this show (having seen him play Kurt in "Sound of Music" earlier this year) but gets to shine with his acting prowess, delivering some strong dialogue. Christian will be playing Andy in the Broadway bound show "That's Andy" in the near future. So for another feather in the cap of NSMT, be sure to catch "The Full Monty" before it leaves town. Just tell them Tony sent you to enjoy an entertaining evening from start to finish.