Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Best of the Decade: The Best Musicals #3

The show at number three may always be known as the also-ran in the same season as The Producers, but I think that history will eventually paint a much different picture, with this musical have much better staying power.  The fact that it has depth, heart, and meaning in addition to being fun, sometimes silly romp I think will make it a show theatre companies will continue to go to and produce. 

The show I am speaking of is, of course:

3.  The Full Monty
Book by Terrence McNally
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Choreography by Jerry Mitchell
Direction by Jack O'Brien

Statistically Speaking:
First Preview: September 25, 2000
Opening Night: October 26, 2000
Closing Night: September 1, 2002
35 previews, 770 performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

There were 22 cast members on opening night, including Patrick Wilson (Jerry), John Ellison Conlee (Dave), Andre De Shields (Horse), Marcus Neville (Harold), Jason Danieley (Malcolm), and Romain Fruge (Ethan) as the down on their luck steel workers turned strippers.  Kathleen Freeman played accompanyist Jeanette, and Annie Golden (Georgie), Emily Skinner (Vicki) and Lisa Datz (Pam), played the wives of the strippers.  Jerry's son was played, alternately, by Nicholas Cutro and Thomas Michael Fiss.  Jimmy Smagula and Denis Jones played the club owner, Tony, and professional stripper Buddy "Keno" Walsh, respectively.  The rest of the ensemble was made up of Jay Douglas, Laura Marie Duncan, Angelo Fraboni, Jannie Jones, Liz McConahay, Patti Perkins, C.E. Smith and Todd Weeks.  There were also four swings.

The Replacement Cast

Later in the run:
  • Will Chase replaced Patrick Wilson as Jerry
  • Daniel Stewart Sherman replaced John Ellison Conlee as Dave
  • Larry Marshall replaced Andre De Shields as Horse
  • Steven Skybell replaced Marcus Neville as Harold
  • Jay Douglas and Danny Gurwin both replaced Jason Danieley as Malcolm
  • Chris Diamantopoulos replaced Romain Fruge as Ethan
  • Jane Connell replaced Kathleen Freeman as Jeanette

Other notable replacements and national tour stars included: Heidi Blickenstaff, Andrea Burns, Kate Baldwin, Julie Foldesi, James Moye, Christopher J. Hanke, Sally Struthers, Christian Anderson and Robert Westenberg.  The Paper Mill Playhouse run starred none other than Elaine Stritch as Jeanette.

The Original Cast made the cover
of Time Out New York

  • The show earned 10 2001 Tony Award Nominations: Best Musical, Best Book (Terrence McNally), Best Score (David Yazbek, music and lyrics), Best Actor (Patrick Wilson), Best Featured Actor (John Ellison Conlee and Andre De Shields), Best Featured Actress (Kathleen Freeman), Best Direction (Jack O'Brien), Best Choreography (Jerry Mitchell) and Best Orchestrations (Harold Wheeler).
  • It also earned 12 Drama Desk Nominations for all of the above, including separate nominations for David Yazbek's lyrics and music, as well as Howell Binkley's lighting.  David Yazbek won for Best Music.
  • Kathleen Freeman won a Theatre World Award for her performance.

The National Tour

My Favorite "Monty Moments":
  • "The Strip"/"Scrap":  What a great way to get the elephant in the room taken care of by showing us straight off a male stripper (Denis Jones) and a "professional" at that.  It sets us up for the hilarity of watching the non-pros, and the fact that the strip will, ultimately, include what the opening does not - The Full Monty.  The strip goes right into the real opening number, "Scrap," which introduces us to the main characters, their desperate situation, and the reality of the show, versus the fantasy.

It may be a "woman's world", but Dave and Jerry
are stuck hiding in the men's room, anyway!

  • "It's a Woman's World":  One of the catchiest numbers in the show, it helps set up the relationships between the men and the women, and coming on the heels of "Scrap," it offers a musical and thematic counterpoint.
  • "Man": Not to be out done, this ode to testosterone balances, riotously, the male ego and its insecurities.

Dave and Jerry contemplate grisly ways to off themselves
while their buddy, Malcolm, tries to off himself in the car.

  • "Big Ass Rock": Establishes an important character, Ethan, as well as the deep friendship between Jerry and Dave.  It also establishes David Yazbek as one witty lyricist.
  • "Michael Jordan's Ball":  One of the greatest montage/time passage scenes of all time.  Jerry Mitchell's clever and ultimately satisfying choreography makes this turning point/act closer into a show stopper.

Jerry and Nathan share a father-son moment

  • "Breeze Off the River":  A wonderful father-son moment so often not depicted in Broadway shows.  Sure, it makes little sense given that the breeze would come off a Great Lake and not a river (it is Buffalo), but the sentiment and the surrounding scene more than make up for it.

The Ladies are pretty sure
their men don't have "the goods."

And the guys aren't so sure, either!

  • "The Goods": An absolutely hysterical "duet" between the men and the women as the guys struggle with their manhood and lack (or in Ethan's case, too much) of.  the guys imagine what their gals would say about what they are doing, and it ain't pretty.

"You Walk with Me"

  • "You Walk with Me": The other tender moment in the show, at Malcolm's mother's funeral.  IT proves to be both an eye-opening experience for the manly men (Malcolm and Ethan become lovers) and it serves as the male-bonding moment that makes the group click.


  • "Let It Go": The cleverest, cutest, and naughtiest finale on Broadway this century.  The song stays with you forever, and you really root for the guys.  And, yes, they do go THE FULL MONTY!


I loved this show, and still do, because it portrays men's relationships with each other so honestly and with a lot of emotion.  To the outside world, most men are "buddies" who watch football, eat, fart and talk dirty.  Well, we do a lot more than that.  There is nothing that comes close to male-bonding and best friendships between guys.  Nothing.  And this show portrays that so well.  It also puts marriage in a positive light, as well as father-son relationships.  It even shows that divorce doesn't have to be a nightmare. It is positive without being schmaltzy.  And it is everything a live stage show should be: entertaining from start to finish.  What makes this a successful movie to stage adaptation for me is that it does everything on stage that a move simply can not do, and therefore, makes it an original piece.

Since It Opened:
  • The Full Monty actually did the full monty on national television, and it was so well done, it wasn't censored by the network. 
  • There was a very successful National Tour of the show, as well as several high-profile regional mountings.

  • Sadly, two cast members passed away, one during the run of the show, and one shortly after it closed: Kathleen Freeman, who was found dead in her apartment by alarmed company members concerned when she did not show up for call.  And swing/understudy Jason Opsahl died of brain cancer a month after the show closed.  He might also be recognized as Kenickie in the 1994 revival of Grease! and he was one of the follies boys in The Will Rogers Follies.
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