Chicago Theater Review: THE FULL MONTY (Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 14, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

STRIPPING DOWN TO BASICS

Charged with unforced sympathy and unpolemical solidarity for plucky underdogs, The Full Monty, like the Fox movie that inspired this musical make-over, fits the pattern of consolation shows triggered by recent recessions: Heavy on grand gestures that “cock a snoot” at hard times and bad bosses, this sweet-tempered protest play joins other British offerings–Billy Elliott, Calendar Girls, Brassed Off, and the ill-fated The Last Ship–to celebrate spunky survivors performing unexpected acts to prove they can dream as much as economize.

Garrett Lutz (back, center) with (front, left to right) George Toles, Eric Lindahl, Randy Johnson, Greg Foster and Scott Danielson in Kokandy’s Productions’ THE FULL MONTY with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrence McNally, directed by John D. Glover, choreography by Danny Spagnuolo and music direction by Kory Danielson. Credit: Joshua Albanese Photography.

Not all these gentle winners convince us that their symbolic solutions–illegally building a last tanker, dancing in tights, posing as post-menopausal pin-ups, or recreating a municipal band–are much more than empty evasions. Perhaps the best of the bunch, The Full Monty–a one-night-only striptease by six ex-industrial workers that may or not raise $50,000 (donated, strangely, by their equally-indebted wives and friends)–can’t reopen a steel mill. At best it beats charity and distracts from toiling as Walmart greeters or security guards.

But in the process of creating their unlikely “Hot Metal” striptease fundraiser, these out-of-shape, mostly middle-aged husbands, fathers, and gay boyfriends “Let It Go,” as the finale proclaims. The simulated total nudity of the titular finale is a metaphor for getting down to fundamentals in order to start over.

Scott Danielson, Garrett Lutz and George Toles in Kokandy’s Productions’ THE FULL MONTY with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrence McNally, directed by John D. Glover, choreography by Danny Spagnuolo and music direction by Kory Danielson. Credit: Joshua Albanese Photography.

But you can sure enjoy the 150-minute ride in Kokandy Productions’ warm-hearted, non-Equity revival, with a lively and inclusive book by Terrence McNally and salt-of-the-earth songs by David Yazbek. Set in Buffalo in the 90s, this American version is blue-collar basic, rich with believable friends and neighbors. In fact this is one of the rare shows with no bad guys–just bad luck. Any real conflict is strictly offstage.

Thanks to John D. Glover’s T.L.C., we come to care for the makers of the monty. Garrett Lutz is well-grounded as Jerry Lukowski, the unemployed, divorced, 32-year-old reluctant hero who dreams up a survival scheme to keep custody of his 12-year-old son Nathan (Kyle Klein II, alternating with Seth Steinberg) and placate his once-devoted Pam (Laura McClain).

(front, left to right) Garrett Lutz and Scott Danielson with (back, left to right) Jake Morissy, Matt Frye, George Toles and Greg Foster in Kokandy’s Productions’ THE FULL MONTY with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrence McNally, directed by John D. Glover, choreography by Danny Spagnuolo and music direction by Kory Danielson. Credit: Joshua Albanese Photography.

Jerry seems energized by bad luck but gets frustratingly passive when things seem less awful (“Breeze Off the River”). At the last minute he almost abandons his get-less-poor scheme (take it off to win it back). Happily, he gets a little help from his friends. These are heavy-set Dave Bukatinsky (Scott Danielson), doggedly devoted to Georgie (Marsha Harman); their ex-supervisor (Eric Lindahl) who’s been improbably pretending to his supposedly materialistic wife (Colette Todd) that the factory didn’t close (“You Gotta Love That Man”); Noah “Horse” Simmons (Randy Johnson), an African-American foxy grandpa sick of certain stereotypes; mousy Malcolm MacGregor (George Toles), a closeted, semi-suicidal mama’s boy who endures her passing with love from well-endowed Ethan (Greg Foster): Their coming out duet “Is It The Wind?” is authentic affection.

These great guys get morale boosts from their tough-loving, hard-boiled rehearsal pianist, salty Broadway veteran Jeannette (Caron Buinis, belting out the sardonic “Things Could Be Better”), and even from the competition, gay Chippendale hoofer Buddy (Charlie Rasmann). We’re always in on the action (and the secrets) as the guys learn their steps by imitating Michael Jordan with “break-spin-shoot” choreography. The women have a favorite fling (“It’s a Woman’s World”) as they tear loose on a girls’ night out.

Caron Buinis (center) with (back, left to right), Eric Lindahl, Scott Danielson, Randy Johnson, George Toles, Garrett Lutz, Greg Foster and Seth Steinberg in Kokandy’s Productions’ THE FULL MONTY with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrence McNally, directed by John D. Glover, choreography by Danny Spagnuolo and music direction by Kory Danielson. Credit: Joshua Albanese Photography.

No “half-monty,” this likable tale of losers picking up the pieces gets intimately performed on Ashley Ann Woods’ runway/proscenium combo, a sprawling set that takes the hijinks deep into the audience. So does the show, winningly shaped by Kory Danielson’s musical direction and Danny Spagnuolo’s down-to-earth choreography. But then everything at Theater Wit’s Stage 3 is made-to-order, totally tailored to the determined decency of Buffalo’s best.

photos by Joshua Albanese Photography

The Full Monty
Kokandy Productions
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave
ends on April 12, 2015
for tickets, call (773) 975-8150 or visit www.kokandyproductions.com

for info on Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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