‘The Full Monty’ at Riverside Center Dinner Theater by Julia L. Exline

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Riverside Center Dinner Theater presents The Full Monty, a side-splitting musical comedy written by Terrence McNally, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Patrick A’Hearn directs this (revealing!) production about a group of laid-off mill workers desperate for a quick payday—and arrange a bare-it-all ‘one-night-only’ event in hopes of getting it! A’Hearn’s solid direction not only brings out the comedy of McNally’s funny book, but also makes the production poignant and heartwarming.

Scenic Designer Brian C. Barker and Scenic Artist Matthew P. Westcott pair up for this ambitious, multi-set show. Dirty windows and wooden beams make up the backdrop for an abandoned factory, and a catwalk leads into a seedy stripclub with graffitied bathrooms. Different platforms are rolled on and offstage, like the interiors of numerous homes, a mirrored-wall dance studio, and a Union Hall, among others. A live orchestra, conducted by Scott Richards, is neatly tucked into the back corner of the stage. The exceptional live instrumentalists provide a Broadway-quality experience right here in Virginia. Sound Designer Jason J. Michael uses city sound effects like rustling buses to bring Buffalo, New York to the Riverside stage, and Lighting Designer Phil Carlucci uses spotlighting to focus the audience’s attention. Costume Design by Gaye Law highlights the working-class status of the men with casual, work-worn jeans and plaid shirts, before introducing the metallic G-strings, that is!

The men about to do 'The Full Monty.' Photo ocurtesy of The Free Lance-Star.
The men about to do ‘The Full Monty.’ Photo courtesy of The Free Lance-Star.

After the closing of their factory, a group of discouraged men sing about their lack of prospects and self-worth in the song, “Scrap.” Choreographer Christopher Noffke uses the harsh smack of metal folding chairs as a clever way to highlight their frustration. A worried Jerry Lukowski (Jeremiah Zinger) begins to panic, because if he cannot keep up with his child support payments, then he will lose shared custody of his young son, Nathan (an adorable Giuseppi Inserra). One evening, Jerry and his best friend, Dave Bukatinsky’s (Ian Lane) follow Dave’s wife Georgie (Katharine Salsbury) and Jerry’s estranged wife Pam (Emily Powers) into a male strip club, where they see hoards of women throwing handfuls of cash at the dancers. Jerry sees the stage covered in bills, and decides that stripping would definitely be worth a try. However, there is one glaring problem—Jerry is not in the same physical league as the sculpted Chippendales dancers, nor does he possess the necessary dance moves and stage presence…how could he possibly draw an audience away from the better sculpted competition?

The answer, he decides, lies in The Full Monty. Where the Chippendales dancers maintain a bit of mystery, Jerry will bare it all. This idea appeals to other “regular” men like Jerry, including his reluctant, weight-conscious best friend, Dave. With the recruitment of their ex-supervisor, Harold Nichols (Devon Clark), the audition process begins. Jerrrial Young steals the audience’s attention as Noah “Horse” T. Simmons, an elderly man who secures a place in the group with his hilarious song, “Big Black Man.” With the inclusion of loner Malcom MacGregor (James Bock) and senseless-but-sweet Ethan Girard (Tommy McNeal), their act is complete. Rehearsals seem hopeless until they finally find their rhythm (inspired by basketball plays) in the well-choreographed song, “Michael Jordon’s Ball.”

Support comes in the form of their quirky rehearsal pianist Jeanette, played by comedian veteran Sally Struthers, who takes the stage amongst highly anticipated waves of cheer and applause. Struthers is hysterical as the eccentric Jeanette, with an ever-present cigarette dangling from her lips, delivering quippy one-liners with a seamless ease. Her comedy is instinctive and effortless, and she is a joy to watch onstage, captivating everyone with her hilarious performance of “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.”

Sally Struthers (Center). Courtesy of the Free Lance-Star.
Sally Struthers (Center). Courtesy of the Free Lance-Star.

Vilma Gil is shows off a big voice as Vicki Nichols, and her enjoyable song “Life with Harold” is a definite highlight of the show. My personal favorite moment is the first time the men decide to take their clothes off in front of each other in a song called, “The Goods.” As they skulk around the stage in their boxers, their shy awkwardness brings a wonderful sweetness to the silliness. Real emotions are not left out of the fun, including the poignant song “Breeze off the River,” sung by Jeremiah Zinger, and the lovely and emotional duet “You Walk With Me,” between James Bock and Tommy McNeal. Will this group of average men be able to pull off this ambitious feat? Or will surprising plot-twists, hidden betrayals, and overwhelming insecurities make this act crumble?

The honest bravery that these actors display throughout the production is admirable, and there is wonderful chemistry between the talented cast members. You can see the joy and fun they are having performing together, and it’s so infectious!

With solid and heartfelt direction, wonderful performances, and a fantastic orchestra – Riverside Center Dinner Theater’s The Full Monty is a blast!

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one intermission.

FULL MONTY POSTER

The Full Monty plays through April 28, 2013 at Riverside Center Dinner Theater — 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets and reservations, call (540) 370-4300.