Historically, the terms “Rated R” and “dinner theater” have rarely been used in the same sentence. Dinner theater is something you dress up for, not a place to see, for example, men strip down to their skivvies (and then some).
However, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre (BDT) has occasionally produced shows that seem to be pushing those boundaries. Last year, the company did Avenue Q, the hilariously raunchy exploration of class, sex, race and English degrees featuring Sesame Streetstyle puppetry. And this year, BDT presents The Full Monty, book by Terrence McNally and music/lyrics by David Yazbek.
Based on the 1997 British film, The Full Monty tells the story of six former steelworkers in Buffalo, N.Y., desperate for money after the factory that employed them shut down. The women in their lives mostly have jobs; Jerry (Seth Caikowski) faces losing visitation rights to his son if he can’t scrape together the money for child support. Dave ( Joel Adam Chavez) feels increasingly emasculated by the reversal of traditional gender roles unemployment has thrust upon him and his wife.
In the opening scene, Jerry, Dave and a host of other jobless factory workers lament how unemployment makes them feel like failures in life. They’re “scrap,” they sing. Their jobs provided self-worth; without them, they’re just losers.
All the men feel pressured to take jobs they think are beneath them, like working in a mall. But when a Chippendales troupe manages to hook the attention (and dollars) of the Buffalo women, Jerry hatches a scheme. If the women go crazy for male strippers with perfect bodies, think how much they would pay to see real Buffalo men, with bellies and guts and receding hairlines!
OK, so the plan doesn’t make much sense on its face, and Jerry spends much of the first act convincing the rest of the guys to join him. Ticket sales for the steelworker strip show slag. So, as a desperate gimmick, Jerry tells everyone they plan to go “the full monty” — strip to the nude — something even the pros at Chippendales won’t do.
Jerry puts together a ragtag team of strippers, rounding up Malcolm (Brett Ambler), who is a live-in caretaker for his sickly mother; Ethan (Burte Walton), who has no discernible talent except for one his father endowed him with; Harold (Scott Beyette), the “efficiency expert” who sacked all the rest, then lost his own job; and Horse (Robert Johnson), who wows during auditions with a rendition of “Big Black Man.”
In retrospect, maybe seeing a musical like The Full Monty on a Sunday afternoon, as I did, wasn’t the best choice. Beyette, who also directed, stages the stripping scenes, for example, with the female actors whooping and cat-calling from off-stage, standing among the audience. It works far better if the audience joins in enthusiastically — something aided by the energy of a Friday night rather than the relative calm of a Sunday afternoon.
The songs are, for the most part, jazzy, fun and vocally demanding. Caikowski delivers a well-rounded performance, especially during the touching scenes with his son, but his voice doesn’t quite meet the extreme demands of the part, which requires Jerry to be played by an actor with a Broadway voice and a soul singer’s acrobatics. Ambler has a stellar voice; it’s a shame he wasn’t featured more. The musical is the men’s show, but the women make the most of what little stage time they get. Shelly Cox-Robie hams it up delightfully as the chainsmoking, seen-it-all accompanist Jeanette, and the song “It’s a Woman’s World” is a four-woman vocal tour de force. Amanda Earls, Tracy Warren, Jessica Hindsley and Norelle Moore perform the song with a confident, no-nonsense swagger.
The musical is an overall breezy experience that touches on some serious issues. The psychological effects of the erosion of middle-class manufacturing jobs, modern masculinity, homophobia and gender stereotypes all are present in the play yet never addressed directly. The would-be strippers are a wellmeaning but fairly dumb lot, who desire manly things like steak and despise womanly things like household chores. McNally’s script has them too stupid to learn dance steps until they picture choreography like basketball moves. They also have a moment where they gather around a magazine and rate the women in it on a scale of one to 10, slowly realizing they are about to be judged in the same way — since it had never occurred to them that women are, you know, people. Two of the guys develop a romance, but short of one suggestive song it’s scarcely mentioned.
Of course, perhaps it’s too much to expect serious treatment of real-life issues in a musical about amateur male strippers. The Full Monty is a fun and engaging experience. My advice? Don’t think too hard when you see it.
The Full Monty plays at Boulder´s Dinner Theatre through Nov. 9. Tickets start at $44. Visit www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com for tickets and information, or call 303-449-6000.