Wednesday, March 20, 2019

When "The Best" Isn't Your "Favorite: The Producers vs The Full Monty

It was the 2000-2001 Broadway season, and we didn't know it, but the world was in the brink of changing forever. The fall of 2000 brought me one of my all-time favorite musicals; the spring of 2001 brought one of Broadway's biggest hits of all-time. Come Tony time, that mega hit swept the awards; my favorite went home empty handed.

I'm speaking, of course, of The Full Monty and The Producers. I saw both shows when they were brand new. I went into both shows cold, never having seen either movie on which they were based, though I enjoyed Mel Brooks' movie Spaceballs a lot. I knew more about the book writers of both (Terrence McNally and Thomas Meehan, respectively) than the composers. Monty had an unknown composer making his debut, a guy named David Yazbek, while Producers had Brooks making his first stab at music and lyrics for the Broadway stage.

If I ever needed to prove to anyone that Tony Awards have no correlation to my level of enjoyment, I would point to The Producers as an example. It is, to date, the Tony-winningest musical in history with 12 wins, a feat that not even the current phenomenon, Hamilton, could achieve. In fact, it lost only three, all cast members who lost to fellow cast members. Despite all of that award glory, I hated it. With a passion. There were some things I appreciated - namely the fast-paced direction and slick choreography of Susan Stroman, and the performance of Cady Huffman. She was luminescent, and those legs! (Even this gay boy noticed them...)

But everything else ranged from annoying...the constant mugging of Nathan Lane and Matthew boring...the never-changing level of low humor and insulting...racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, ageist jokes (yes an old Jewish man can be those things), and the gay stereotypes were just...ick. Now understand this was years before #MeToo and being "woke," and I was that aware of it. I will cop to literally two laughs: one scripted - when a ceiling mirror revealed a kick line shaped like a swastika, mostly because it was clever and unexpected; one unscripted: Mathew Broderick messed up a line and Nathan Lane hit him with a zinger of a comeback, causing them both to giggle a little.

I did come away from the show feeling very good about one thing. I paid $38 for standing room. I got to see the "hit of the new century" for less than $40. The guy in front of me, sitting in the back row of the orchestra, paid more than $200 for less of a view. (The Producers has the dubious distinction of being the show that started Premium pricing.)

The show that I adored was the anti-Producers. The Full Monty was very funny, clever, had a message and lots of heart. It embraced the poverty-stricken, the aging, single dads, women's equality, body image and gay love. Again, this was years before #MeToo and being "woke," and I was that aware of it.

Sure, the promise of the full Monty in the finale might have gotten me in the door (and mostly for the will-they-actually-do-it curiosity and the if-so-how need to know, I swear!), but the show had me from the first notes of that weird "overture." The original cast had several established Broadway folk I was a big fan of, including Andre De Shields, Annie Golden, Kathleen Freeman and Emily Skinner. And, in retrospect, it was my first brush with several performers I've come to love, including Patrick Wilson, John Ellison Conlee, Romaine Fruge and Jason Danieley.

Being David Yazbek's first Broadway score, every number was like a new discovery. Right out of the gate was a word-play ironic number called "Scrap," followed by the one-two punch of female empowerment, "It's a Woman's World" and masculinity run amok in the aptly titled "Man." There's the now standard Yazbek naughty number full of double entendre, "Big Black Man," and the affection through humor of "Big-Ass Rock." I could write about every song; I love them all.

I really loved the organic nature of Jerry Mitchell's choreography and the sharply focused direction of Jack O'Brien. Watching the guys turn into actual dancers through basketball, or bonding over a funeral and furniture repossession was delightful. And I may have shed a tear or two.

I guess you can't say it was a failure - Monty ran for 770 performances, recouped, and did the actual full monty on national television! I miss it. How about a revival?


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