KPBS Airdate: 05/11/07
If you think it’s gutsy to go ‘The Full Monty,’ it takes even more cojones to start up a brand new musical theater company. And this week, we get exposed to both at once.
The new company is called the San Diego Musical Theatre, and it’s helmed by executive directors Gary and Erin Lewis — San Diego natives and long-term business owners with a lot of vicarious and volunteer experience in the theater, having raised a musical theater performer – Jill Lewis – who married a musical theater performer – Robert Townsend. This ambitious, some might say masochistic, couple has decided to go ‘the Full Monty’ themselves, starting their new company with a bang, a very elaborate professional production. Their prodigious master plan is to produce five musicals a year, year-round, with as many Equity performers as they can afford. Ultimately, they want to build their own performing arts center in coastal North County, to include a youth theater program and a home for their own and other theaters’ productions.
But right now, their focus is on this really big show, which they probably figured would be a kickoff that sparks people’s interest — prurient or otherwise. Everyone knows sex sells. And it looks like this show will sell very well indeed… and deservedly so.
The Full Monty started as a movie and premiered as a musical right here at the Old Globe in 2000, then went right to Broadway. The 1997 sleeper hit film was set in the steel-mill city of Sheffield, England. The musical re-located the action to an American steel-town, Buffalo, NY. So the accents and locales have changed, but the plot remains pretty much the same. These steelworkers have been laid off; they’ve lost their jobs and their self-respect. But when a Chippendale act comes to town and drives all the women wild, the cash-strapped guys decide to stage a little strip act of their own, to recapture their money – and their manhood. So they drop their fears, their nerves and their drawers.
It’s a feel-good show, with a funny book (by four-time Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally) and an upbeat pop-rock score (by Daivd Yazbek, who also composed the Globe’s award-winning Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which comes to the Civic Theatre on tour in July). But there is a dark undercurrent in Monty, and that’s what lifts it above the level of pure fluff. The musical has something to say about friendship, what makes a man — and a father — taking responsibility and taking your life into your own hands. It also makes a potent statement about an image-obsessed society that demands that every guy look like Brad Pitt.
In all ways, this new company actually pulls it off. They didn’t scrimp on the production, bringing in a well-regarded director and choreographer from L.A., renting a professional set and hiring 12 excellent musicians for the pit. The multi-talented cast is a mix of L.A., New York, San Diego and SDSU talent. And the production is terrific. The singing and dancing are impressive, the energy level is high, and the dramatic moments are nailed with precision and poignancy.
And, in case you were wondering, they definitely do go ‘The Full Monty.’ But as in the Globe and Broadway productions, in the final moments when they whip off those tiny little red g-strings, the backlighting is so bright, you can’t see a thing. But you know what’s there. So, expose yourself to the birth of a new theater company — performing in their birthday suits!
“The Full Monty“ bares it all through May 13, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
©2007 Patté Productions, Inc.