Stage: The Full Monty

A shoestring production brims with character and heart.

If The Full Monty is all about expectations—who you'll get to see do what, and when—here is one production that defies convention.This is Balagan Theatre's decidedly low-tech interpretation of the musical by Terrence McNally (book) and David Yazbek (tunes/lyrics), a Broadway trifle Seattleites first caught at ACT in 2002 on a bus-and-truck tour. Everything about this show is scaled back from the 1997 film set in Sheffield, England. This version (which ran for more than 750 performances in New York nearly a decade ago), transplants the story to Buffalo, where laid-off factory workers scheme to reclaim their manhood by revealing their, um, manhoods. To music, of course, which makes it "art" rather than smut.Balagan is a community group bent on providing entertainment on a shoestring budget. That instantly means two things: One, you won't be skipping a rent payment for your tickets. Two, varying degrees of amateur talent are on parade throughout.Don't expect fancy sets or lights. Don't expect Actors Equity cards dangling from the principals' back pockets. And be forewarned that none of these performers, even the ones who can carry a tune, are going to make the top 10 on American Idol.So the question becomes, Can they entertain? And the answer is yes, in fits and starts. Sure, it's cheap, disposable fun. But so is the musical. And since its central characters are supposedly blue-collar bums who can't sing or dance, the cast is somewhat inoculated before the show even gets underway. So what if the cast of guys central to the show boasts fewer real singers than the women who appear to chide and cheer them? This show gets over on guts and grins, which turn out to be much more impressive than the big reveal at the show's conclusion.The plot is as simple as Pong, though our current recession gives this revival a little more depth than it deserves. Laid-off factory guys are losing touch with what they believe makes them men—namely, their identities as providers and heads of the household. Jerry Lukowski (Jon Lutyens) is their leader by default. He's a ne'er-do-well who's already lost his wife (Danielle Barnum) to another man; his tardy child-support payments now threaten to cost him his son (Dylan Zucati) as well.It's Jerry's flash of inspiration to lampoon the Chippendales dancers with a one-night-only appearance by "the real men of Buffalo." Physically, none of these fellows is a romance-novel cover boy, but once they commit to going full-frontal, ticket sales stir to life, as it were.That said, the biggest disappointment is not in the singing, novice acting, or rudimentary choreography, but Yazbek's pedestrian score, which includes such laments as "Scrap," the men's scathing self-assessment, and "It's a Woman's World," a song of feminine empowerment set in a nightclub men's room. Luckily, the best tunes, "Life With Harold" and "Rule My World," elicit the most assured vocal performances. Small wonder they're also the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night.This production is full of flaws, but brims with character and heart as well. Director Jake Groshong seems to have pulled this group together much as Jerry does with his buddies in Buffalo. Instead of polish and professionalism, Groshong has substituted the good cheer and effervescence of a likeable crew of actors and musicians. The fizz doesn't last long after the lights come up, but for two hours, you're rooting for these guys. And glad you've got a job.

 
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