They don’t have to take their clothes off (to have a good time)

The cast of HART's The Full Monty
In three … two … one: The men of Monty countdown to for the start of the skin show. photo by Charles Mills

Despite what the majority of American audiences think, “the full monty” doesn’t actually mean getting nekkid. But on this side of the pond, we like our Briticisms dirty — think snog, shag and wanker — and so the once-chaste term was co-opted by us Yanks to forevermore reference full-frontal nudity.

Actually, the term seems to have evolved from a three-piece suit with a spare set of trousers sold by Brit-tailor Montague Burton, but the hard-luck characters in the ’97 film The Full Monty weren’t too worried about waistcoats and cufflinks. They were talking about going all the way.

Which is what Waynesville-based theater company HART is doing by staging the musical of the same name. However, when it comes to the nitty-gritty (will the actors bare all?), no one’s telling. “The standard answer,” play director Charles Mills quips, “is buy a ticket and come see.”

A modicum of flesh

The cast of HART's The Full Monty
Just a bunch of guys having a good time: The cast of HART’s The Full Monty get comfortable with one another. photo by Charles Mills

“People might come to the show to see if we [break the law],” observes Mark Jones, who plays Ethan, “but that’s not what it’s really about.”

Fans of the story already know the premise — a group of out-of-work guys decides to strip for much-needed cash — actually has less to do with leather thongs than the socioeconomic crisis created by widespread unemployment.

Job loss is a condition to which many Americans can relate, especially with the closing of major plants like General Motors and, closer to home, textile mills. “Haywood County … was once home to a thriving factory based economy that paid employees very well and provided them with benefits and retirement,” reports press for the show. “Much of that has gone now, and in its wake are people like Jerry Lukowski, a divorced dad [in Monty] who owes back child support, has no way to pay it, and is going to lose visitation with his son if he doesn’t come up with some money fast.”

It’s a universal theme. Which is why, when the screenplay was adapted to the Broadway stage, writers reinvented Monty as an American story. The musical is set in gritty, industrial Buffalo, N.Y., which — barring the nasal upstate accent — makes for a pretty easy transition to Western North Carolina.

“People are losing jobs constantly,” Jones affirms. “That notion of the play translates well. Also, the notion of strip clubs, because they’re everywhere.”

Well, almost everywhere. In Monty, the guys get the idea to put on a strip show when they realize how much money local women are shelling out for Chippendales-type acts. And, sure, bars specializing in catching an eyeful are pretty much standard — except in Waynesville.

In recent years, anti-nudity statutes were passed to keep potential strip clubs from moving to town. Under Chapter 42: Offenses and Miscellaneous Provisions of the Code of Ordinances for the Town of Waynesville, section 42-2 (Acts prohibited in a public place) states that places of entertainment can’t allow performers to “appear in a state of nudity” and nudity is defined as “the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering; .. or the showing of covered male genitals in a discernible turgid state, even if completely and opaquely covered.”

“The town [made] some ordinances on what can and can’t be shown in certain venues,” Mills notes. “And we sort of fit into that.”

He continues, “There will be a modicum of naked male flesh on stage, just by the nature of the show. The actual script says, ‘They do not shirk from their responsibility,’ but in the Broadway show they do a cheat.”

Body [image] building

According to Jones, in his character’s first scene, he drops trou. By the second act, he’s prancing around in his boxers.

“We’ve all been going through some of the same types of feelings our characters go through,” the actor admits. “When we started [rehearsing], there was a lot of hesitating about taking our clothes off.”

Then he laughs, “Well, I’m not hesitant; I’ve been in theater for 18 years!”

But the Monty story line lends itself to both amateurism and stage fright. The play’s characters are all ordinary guys in varying stages of fitness (or lack thereof). They’re not Pink Tie material (for the unexposed, that’s Asheville’s own male exotic dance revue); they don’t normally stock G-strings in their bureaus.

“The show deals with self-esteem issues,” Jones acknowledges. “Usually it’s the females [facing body image dilemmas] but in this show, it’s about the men.” The actor describes his character as a dumb jock of sorts, always dressed in sweats or a baseball cap. In the movie, he’s the guy picked for the strip act — named “Hot Metal’ — not for his dance moves as much as his other attributes. But that doesn’t mean Jones is feeling a lot of bravado filling Nathan’s (ahem) shoes.

“I’m tall and skinny,” he points out, “so I’m thinking [the audience] will see me and think ‘he needs to eat.’ But my character was probably going through that, too.” So, the actor uses that insecurity to his advantage.

As rehearsals go on, the six guys are growing more and more comfortable and, as Jones puts it, “By the time we get to the final number of the show, we’ve already been on stage half naked.”

He adds, “By the end of the show, each of those [characters] has become attractive to someone and you’re rooting for them to take their clothes off.”

The whole song and dance

“I wasn’t a fan of the movie,” Mills confesses. “I tend, when my friends are just gushing, to be a little disappointed. It’s a cute little movie, but I don’t see where it’s so knee-slapping funny.”

Then he checked out the theatrical version of Monty and was sold.

“In the musical, the dismalness gets glossed over a bit, because it clips along to make room for the musical numbers,” the director muses. Which is a funny thought — Buffalo, N.Y. (think the oppressively dark setting of Buffalo 66) as the subject of choreographed song and dance — but then again, most of us probably prefer a catchy tune to a treatise on economic collapse.

“The stage show might be more fun because it’s not so gloomy and doomy,” Mills surmises.

And if the actors of HART have anything to say about it, their Monty will pack plenty of laughs. The sets are well-designed, minimal and comedic in their own right (a moveable two-sided box with a single toilet serves as one player’s hideout), and the character of a hard-bitten promoter pulled out of retirement could easily steal the show with her over-the-top outfits and zinging one-liners.

The music — if not the soundtrack of classics from the movie — is sure to make a few fans as well. “Everyone remembers either the final number [danced to Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On”] or “Hot Stuff” when the guys are standing in the unemployment line,” Jones says. The “Hot Stuff” scene in the movie version of Monty was definitely a high point, when the would-be strippers find themselves shaking hips in time to the disco hit. But when a movie goes Broadway, especially when it becomes a musical, an original songbook is written.

“These songs could stand on their own,” Jones enthuses. “I like “Let It Go” [performed with the strip tease]: It’s so much fun to sing, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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