The men facing layoffs at a steel plant in Buffalo, N.Y., are in crisis in this musical adaptation of 1997 film, The Full Monty. Set in the early ’80s, during the recession (not Sheffield, England, as it is in the film), Jerry, played by Corey Link, and his best friend Dave (Michael Crosa) must find new jobs in a rust belt town with few options. Lurking beneath their tough exteriors, these unemployed steel mill workers fear being losers. Asheville Community Theatre is currently staging The Full Monty through Sunday, June 24.
In the storyline, the Chippendale dancers are on tour in Buffalo. Local women have paid their hard-earned money to indulge their fantasies at the club. Jerry and Dave hide in a bathroom stall in the ladies’ room while Jerry’s ex-wife, Pam (Karyn Panek), and Dave’s wife, Georgie (Cassie Marcelo), revel in their freedom. They are the breadwinners now, and this economic security gives them confidence: They can pay for male attention and forget their troubles for a while.
After overhearing their conversations, Jerry hatches a plan to make some easy money: They will strip. After all, how hard can it be?
This musical is about masculinity and the various ways men, when left with few resources, must confront their own vulnerabilities. What is worse, a job at Walmart or stripping? Even if the potential for humiliation is greater when naked onstage, at least it is a one-night-only event with a big payoff at the end. Not so with tedious, low-wage jobs. These men see themselves as providers, which is tied to their definition of “being a man.” They are failing at manhood when they lose their jobs, can’t pay child support or afford to buy nice things for their wives.
The staging at ACT includes a live band nestled in a garage, upstage center, thus serving as a visual pun for an actual garage band. During the show, the garage door slides open to reveal keyboards, electric bass, drums, reeds, trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone. The sound design is excellent and adds liveliness to the production.
The songs of The Full Monty vary from the tender to the raucous and highlight the separate worlds that women and men inhabit. But this musical is too smart to let such an easy contrast stand unexamined. In fact, men’s lack of confidence in their bodies and their true sexual identities are uncovered during the course of the performance.
A high point of the production is the song “The Goods.” When the six members of Hot Metal, the name of this all-male striptease group, begin rehearsals, they imagine the women as harsh judges of their inadequacies. The staging positions the women on an elevated platform so they can heckle the would-be strippers. This split-level perspective renders the guys of Hot Metal more vulnerable to criticism. It’s a role reversal for men who have had a position of privilege also known as “the male gaze.” Faced with anxiety about their weight, build, size and desirability, it’s not clear they can withstand the scrutiny, even if it is only a nightmare scenario.
Missy Stone delivers a stand-out performance as Jeanette, the piano player and astute judge of talent for the men who audition to be a part of Hot Metal. Stone sings a resounding version of “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.” After watching a bad rehearsal for the Hot Metal dancers, she gently delivers their first review: Things could be better.
Another performance that stands out is Andy Thompson’s portrayal of the shy Malcolm. At his mother’s funeral, Malcolm is finally able to express his love for Ethan, and a solo becomes a duet with “You Walk with Me.” Once alone and introverted, Malcolm finds someone who not only shares his love for The Sound of Music, but is also on the journey of self-discovery during Hot Metal’s rehearsals. Thompson’s Malcolm reveals a character arch that resonates.
In British slang, the term “the full monty” means “the whole thing.” The anticipation is real for both the audience within the production and viewers seated at ACT as Hot Metal is set to perform, because we’re rooting for these average guys to accept their flaws.
Ultimately, the finale is well-choreographed and cheeky. Perhaps if the guys can overcome self-doubt, other mundane struggles will be easier to tackle.
WHAT: The Full Monty
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St., ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, June 24. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $15-$30