The Full Monty - The Paper Mill Playhouse - Milburn, NJ - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, Book by Terrence McNally, Directed by Mark S. Hoebee, Choreographed by Denis Jones
Elaine Stritch in New Jersey? Say WHA?!!! Broadway legend. Plus the prospects of naked men. Plus one of those men is Wayne Wilcox. Yup, that's all you really need to make a fun night at a musical!
I saw the First National tour a few years back and always remembered really liking the musical version of The Full Monty, even though I couldn't hum you a single tune from the show. Now, the Paper Mill Playhouse is staging the musical based on the terrific British movie and throwing in Broadway legend Elaine Stritch amongst the disrobing boys, so you know it's gotta be a hoot.
And a hoot it is! While the musical is still a bit clunky and runs far too long for what's essentially a fun and light musical, the Paper Mill production excels in the basic elements of the show, most notably having a great cast led by Wayne Wilcox (Marty on Gilmore Girls and who really should be a bigger musical star than he is).
Oh sure, the musical tries to throw a serious undertone to enhance the underlying themes that deal with social status and men's place in the world, matching the intelligent film script, but Terrence McNally (of ALL people) simply burdens the buoyancy of the stage show with some dreary lulling moments that slows the momentum down. The musical works best when it's fun and zippy and characters get to either throw out barbs or toss off their clothes, and only the touching "You Walk with Me", sung after a funeral scene between Malcolm and Ethan, two men that finally find themselves, works as a serious moment.
Allen E. Read and Jason Babinsky are fantastic as Malcolm and Ethan. I think it's hard not to like the young dim but sweet Ethan character and its one of those roles where any actor playing it will be loved (Christopher J. Hanke was my Ethan in the tour), but I still think Babinsky is completely superb and adorable in the role.
Read is great as the geeky Malcolm and his singing voice is beautiful.
I cannot say enough about Wilcox who sounds great and played the Jerry, the down and out loser father/ex-husband in need of fast cash, with the right amount of heart, heartbreak, goofiness and jerk to make it all work.
Milton Craig Nealy is great as Horse. Both burly and sympathetic.
Joe Coots is Jerry's larger best friend Dave and probably had the weakest singing voice but nicely made up for it with his buddy banter with Wilcox.
Jenn Colella is Dave's wife Georgie, and manages to fill in the barely sketched female characters and the main wife representative in the show. Colella's voice is fabulous and she brings in a highly energetic performance.
Michelle Ragusa (above) fills in the other main female wife role and while it's way more caricature, it's basically all that is needed to be effective in the part. Her Vicki is wife to Harold (Michael Rupert (Legally Blonde) doing what he does best, playing white collared stuffy guys), the former boss to all who now finds himself unemployed with his former underlings.
Of course, the REAL female star here is Elaine Stritch. Elaine Stritch in New Jersey? Oh yah! And she knows she's out of the New York spotlight as Jeanette, the piano player the shows up out of nowhere to help the boys practice their stripping show. (BTW, I'm assuming you all know the story of this by now, and if you haven't, uh, go rent the movie ASAP. It's great). With Stritch playing what is essentially a minor sidekick character, it frees her up to have a ball with the role, spitting the lines out and having the time of her life, and it's all the more fun to watch for the rest of us.
Oh yah, and the final strip, when the men go the full monty, is a lot of fun too!
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com
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