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Paulanne Simmons

Paper Mill Playhouse Bares All with “The Full Monty”


Directed by Mark S. Hoebee
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Milburn, NJ
June 10 – July 12, 2009
Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thurs. 2 & 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$92 (973) 376-4343, www.papermill.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 13, 2009

“The Full Money,” based on the 1997 British film, ranks among those musicals that most skillfully blend dark themes with some of the jazziest upbeat music anyone could wish for.

The Full Monty at Paper Mill Playhouse, Photo by Jerry Dalia, The Cast of The Full Monty.

The book, by Terrence McNally, tells the story of five out-of-work steelworkers from Buffalo who decide to strike it rich as male strippers at a local club after seeing their wives’ enthusiastic reaction to a touring Chippendale’s company. The score, by David Yazbek, includes songs ranging from the jazzy “Big Black Man” to the lyrical “You Walk with Me” to the bump and grind “Let It Go.”

The Paper Mill Playhouse production, directed by Mark S. Hoebee, not only has a feisty cast of men and women willing to take it to the limit, it also has the incomparable and unpredictable Elaine Stritch (she did an unplanned encore on press night) heading the cast as Jeanette Burmeister, the much married aging hoofer who becomes the group’s wisecracking accompanist.

Left to right: Milton Craig Nealy, Michael Rupert, Jason Babinsky, Elaine Stritch, Joe Coots, Wayne Wilcox and Allen E. Read. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

The brains behind Hot Metal, as the group is eventually named, is Jerry Lukowski (Wayne Wilcox), who desperately needs money so he can give his wife, Pam (Kelly Sullivan) back child support for his son, Nathan (Alex Maizus/Luke Marcus Rosen) and keep his visiting rights. Jerry quickly enlists his best friend, the overweight and depressed Dave Bukatinsky (Joe Coots).

After rescuing the puny steel mill security guard Malcolm MacGregor (Allen E. Read) from an attempted suicide, Dave and Jerry convince Malcolm to join them. Their next recruit is their former foreman, Harold Nichols (Michael Rupert), who takes ballroom dancing classes with his wife Vicki (Michele Ragusa), and is immediately slotted as the strippers’ choreographer.

Left to right: Joe Coots, Allen E. Read and Wayne Wilcox. Photo by Jerry Dalaia.

Auditions follow, resulting in two new men becoming fellow-strippers: Noah “Horse” T. Simmons (the terrific Milton Craig Nealy), a song-and-dance man who has seen better days; and Ethan Girard (Jason Babinsky), who can neither sing nor dance but is properly endowed and eager to drop his pants.

Much of the musical’s charm comes from the ineptitude of the would-be stripers and their panic at performing the very act they have set out to perfect. Rehearsals do not encourage the men. Nor does “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number” (Elaine’s Show-Stopping Number), which gives the guys an honest appraisal of their talent, allow them much hope.

Left to right: Xander Chauncey and Jenn Colella. Photo by Jerry Dalia.

Although the wives play an auxiliary role, it is in the end their love and support that give the men the courage to go on. For them, their men’s new profession is an act of valor and a source of pride.

So, by the time the final number is belted out and the bows are taken, it should become obvious that “The Full Monty” is, after all, really a family shows based on those human values we all cherish: love, commitment, responsibility and faith.

Paper Mill Playhouse gives the musical just enough pizzazz to remind the audience that this is indeed a Broadway musical yet always works within its limits, thus preserving the intimate atmosphere of this gem of a regional playhouse. In fact, the playhouse is just large enough to contain the likes of Stritch and at the same time allow her to illuminate every corner of the house.

“The Full Monty” is a full evening of enjoyment for everyone. Bring the kids.


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