Skin is in at the Loft Theatre. But if seeing a bunch of guys in their undies is the only reason you’re tempted to check out the Human Race Theatre Company’s delightful production of composer David Yazbek and librettist Terrence McNally’s outstanding Tony Award-nominated 2000 musical comedy “The Full Monty” you’ll miss out on the compelling facets that propelled it as one of the finest, relevant and heartwarming musicals of the last decade.
Set in blue-collar Buffalo and based on the 1997 Academy Award-winning British film of the same name, “The Full Monty,” unlike any contemporary musical, skillfully addresses the agony, worry, shame, and disappointment men face when stripped of their livelihoods. Without a job, without a sense of purpose to provide for themselves and their families, what are men to do? Should they pound the pavement hoping something better comes along all the while knowing hope doesn’t equal money? Should they take a job they view as menial just to please their spouse? Should they simply give up? And greater still, what do men become when they’re perceived as lesser? The six insecure, unemployed men at the center of this relatable tale truly bare all for a quick buck a la the Chippendales, but in doing so, and whether it’s the right or wrong decision, they ultimately regain their self-confidence and a clearer understanding of the value of teamwork, which, in this case, helps repair marriages and fuels newfound love.
This season opener entertains under the crisp, character-conscious direction of Joe Deer, recently inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame. Making good use of the Loft’s immersive capabilities and the sizable space in front of the turntable, Deer delicately balances the humor and seriousness of the material but doesn’t forget the show is a comedy at its core even when it stings. He also coaxes solid performances from a uniquely diverse and funny sextet. In the lead role of divorced dad Jerry Lukowski, Christopher DeProphetis dives admirably into Jerry’s desperation and determination to fight for custody of his son no matter the cost, particularly in the rousing anthem “Man.” As Jerry’s chunky best friend Dave Bukatinsky, the very natural, grounded Matt Welsh is a terrific sidekick prone for comic relief but also strong introspectively. As Jerry’s former boss Harold Nichols, Jamie Cordes humorously conveys an uptight persona in a gutsy departure from past roles. Muse Machine alum Matt Kopec, excellently sensitive as suicidal loner Malcolm MacGregor, supplies a beautiful rendition of the poignant ballad “You Walk With Me” ably assisted by Josh Kenney, a lighthearted bundle of excitable, goofy energy as oddball Ethan Girard. As the elderly, colorful Noah “Horse” T. Simmons, crowd-pleaser Richard E. Waits nearly steals the show proclaiming the joys of being a “Big Black Man.”
Elsewhere, Deb Colvin-Tener is a feisty, feel-good support system as rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister, an old-timer who helps Jerry and his cohorts (dubbed Hot Metal) with their clunky routines. Jillian Jarrett is a sensible, tender presence as Pam, Jerry’s ex-wife. Leslie Goddard, a fabulous Agnes Gooch in the Race’s production of “Mame” last season, winningly returns as Dave’s rowdy wife Georgie particularly leading the spirited “It’s a Woman’s World.” Sonia Perez, as Harold’s materialistic wife Vicki, brings spice and energy to “Life With Harold,” and joins forces with Goddard for a lovely reprise of “You Rule My World.” A fearless Richard Jarrett opens the show with sexual gusto as professional stripper Keno. The fine cast also features Peanut Edmonson as Jerry’s son Nathan, Scott Hunt as Pam’s boyfriend Teddy, Scott Stoney as Reg, Andréa Morales as Estelle/Molly MacGregor, Gina Handy as Joanie, Tracey L. Bonner as Susan, Adam Soniak as Marty, and Cassi Mikat as the swing.
Choreographer Dionysia Williams, a Wright State University graduate and BalletMet Dance Academy faculty member, offers flavorful, character-specific movement, especially in “Big Black Man,” “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” “The Goods,” and exuberant finale “Let It Go.” Scenic designer Dick Block’s terrifically multipurpose set convincingly establishes a variety of locales. Costumer Janet G. Powell’s choices suitably reflect casual, everyday attire. John Rensel’s expert lighting is heightened to good use in the enticing, teasing final seconds. Musical director Sean Michael Flowers’ offstage, seven-member orchestra makes Yazbek’s sublime music sizzle but is unbalanced and occasionally overpowers the cast, perhaps a reflection of Jay Brunner’s surprisingly iffy sound design.
“The Full Monty” spotlights the camaraderie of a distinct group of men uniting for a common goal but their life-changing journey will have you feeling just as liberated and uplifted.
“The Full Monty” continues through Oct. 4 at the Human Race Theatre Company’s Loft Theatre inside the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. Act One: 85 minutes; Act Two: 65 minutes. Tickets are $20-$40 but discounts are available. Patrons are advised the show, intended for mature audiences, contains adult language and themes as well as a bit of full frontal male nudity. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org