I was a big fan of The Fully Monty in its heyday, but that was then and this is now. Based on the smash hit 1997 British film, The Full Monty (which was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, but didn’t win any) is a feel good musical comedy. The show premiered in San Diego on 1st June, 2000 and opened on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on 26th October that year. With a book by Terrence McNally (Catch Me If You Can) and score from David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), it was launched in the West End in March 2002, before being revived there seven years later.
Set in Buffalo, New York, a group of unemployed men – six former steelworkers low on cash and prospects – set out to reinvent themselves as an all-male strip group, a la the Chippendales. To draw in the crowds and go one better than the chiseled strippers, the man whose idea this was in the first instance declares the sextet will go all the way … that is take off their whole kit. What starts out as a moneymaking venture soon becomes a journey of self-discovery and friendship, as these men learn that the whole is greater than the sum of each of their parts. But, of course, first they need to work their way through their self-consciousness and fears.
This show – featuring 20 performers and a live band, positioned behind a minimalist industrial set – looked and felt dated to me, notwithstanding that it retains a number of fun elements. The dialogue is peppered with clichés and most of the musical numbers are hardly all that melodious. Obviously the performers have to work with the material they have. Nevertheless, in large part, I wasn’t sold on the acting or singing either, save for a few better than average voices.
To me the production appeared amateurish rather than professional. Further, I thought the lead was a little too severe and lacked that vital chemistry to connect him with the audience. Nuance was missing. I didn’t buy his connection with his son. That needed time to be established and empathy was missing. Perhaps it was the direction that was lacking.
Entering the theatre, I wanted to laugh aloud (which I didn’t do) or, at the very least, smile more than I did. Admittedly, my wife found the show more appealing, although she, too, wasn’t entirely sold, unlike three youngish women sitting behind us. They appeared to be having a wow of a time – whooping and wolf whistling throughout. So, I suppose it depends upon which side your bread is buttered.
I am judging The Full Monty on its merits, as well as comparing it with many other musicals I have seen recently, not to overlook StageArt’s excellent The Color Purple and Titanic The Musical. By all those markers, I’m afraid to say it doesn’t measure up well. The Fully Monty: The Broadway Musical is playing at the National Theatre in St Kilda until 19th March.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Bare the Musical (StageArt) – theatre review
- Nine the Musical (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
- Memphis The Musical (StageArt) – theatre review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television