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Friday, April 19, 2024

Theatre review: The Full Monty balances humour with heart

The Full Monty is not just a lighthearted romp about male strippers; it also has a surprising depth as it explores more serious themes of toxic masculinity, identity, friendship, and the economic challenges of the working class.

The Full Monty is not just a lighthearted romp about male strippers; it also has a surprising depth as it explores more serious themes of toxic masculinity, identity, friendship, and the economic challenges of the working class. And while it is definitely from a different era, first appearing on stage nearly 25 years ago, it still finds resonance today.

Adapted from the 1997 British film and set in the same year, the musical stage adaptation of The Full Monty moves from England to the industrial heartland of the United States. Set in Buffalo, New York, it follows a group of unemployed steelworkers who, facing financial hardship after being laid off from their jobs, create the male strip act “Hot Metal” to earn some quick cash after seeing how popular a visiting Chippendales act was with their wives. As they prepare for the show, the men work through their inner demons and find strength in each other.

In this Neptune Theatre production, director and choreographer Julie Tomaino infuses a heartfelt vulnerability. Thanks to this fearless cast, as they shed their clothes along with their insecurities in the final moments of the musical, they symbolize their ultimate act of defiance against societal expectations and personal limitations. It’s a liberating moment that transcends mere titillation, reinforcing the message of embracing vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness.

Michael-Lamont Lytle, David Light, Brandon Michael Arrington, Ian Gilmore, Jay Davis and Ryan Rogerson in the Neptune Theatre production of The Full Monty. Photo by Stoo Metz.
Michael-Lamont Lytle, David Light, Brandon Michael Arrington, Ian Gilmore, Jay Davis and Ryan Rogerson in the Neptune Theatre production of The Full Monty. Photo by Stoo Metz.

As Jerry, the group’s de facto leader, actor Jay Davis has the show’s most challenging job as he embodies the struggle of many middle-aged men who find themselves without a job or a sense of purpose. While some of Jerry’s transformation, particularly around his homophobia, is obscured toward the end, there is no denying his determination to provide for his son while dealing with personal failures is genuine. Davis’ “Breeze Off the River” is so heartfelt it will bring tears to your eyes as he sings about his love for his son.

In our recent interview with director and choreographer Julie Tomaino, she said she had focused the story through the eyes of Jerry’s son, Nathan. While perhaps a bit of a stretch, his presence throughout is a constant reminder of Jerry’s end goal. Last seen on Neptune’s stage in Billy Elliot, Paul Fawcett makes the most of the role.

Ryan Rogerson sensitively portrays Dave Bukatinsky’s struggle with body image issues, highlighting the perpetual and unrealistic standards of beauty. His journey towards self-acceptance and confidence is both touching and relatable.

As the shy and socially awkward Malcolm, Brandon Michael Arrington confronts his sexuality, eventually emerging as a symbol of courage and authenticity, largely thanks to fellow stripper Ethan Girard, played with a delightfully wild abandon by David Light.

Michael-Lamont Lytle is spot-on as Noah “Horse” Simmons, bringing down the house with one of the show’s more memorable numbers, “Big Black Man.”

Rounding out the male cast of leads is Ian Gilmore as Harold Nichols, who has been keeping word of his lay-off a secret from his wife. Agreeing to be the group’s choreographer, he soon finds out that his wife’s love is not about the money but for the man he is.

As Jeanette Burmeister, veteran actor Niki Lipman leans into her one-liners with full measure, providing some of the show’s funniest moments. Some references will undoubtedly have Generation Z+ audience members reaching for their phones (during intermission or after the show, please) to Google some of her namedrops.

Cailin Stadnyk brings her powerful voice to The Full Monty as Vicki Nichols. Photo by Stoo Metz.
Cailin Stadnyk brings her powerful voice to The Full Monty as Vicki Nichols. Photo by Stoo Metz.

While the men of “Hot Metal” are the focus in The Full Monty, their wives play a crucial role in their transformations, supporting the men as they grow.

Cailin Stadnyk’s performance as Harold’s wife, Vicki, is outstanding. With her powerful voice, Stadnyk delivers a heartfelt “Life With Harold.” Becca Guilderson and Laura Caswell are equally terrific as Jerry and Dave’s wives.

Doing double duty as the show’s choreographer, Tomaino makes the most of the relatively tiny Neptune Theatre stage, taking advantage of Holly Meyer-Dymny’s multi-level set design.

Leigh Ann Vardy’s lighting and Helena Marriott’s era-evoking costumes enhance the storytelling. Lisa St Clair conducts her small band with great skill.

As communities face economic hardship, job insecurity, and shifts in societal attitudes today, The Full Monty serves as a poignant reminder of the power of friendship, acceptance, and the courage to defy expectations. It also emphasizes that true fulfillment comes from embracing one’s authentic self, a message that is as relevant today as it was when the show first premiered.

The Full Monty continues at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle St, Halifax) until May 12. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.

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