Photos – Belinda Strodder
Arguably of the most fun aspects of StageArt’s production of The Full Monty is the Celebrity Cameos – a ribald Russian roulette of six Aussie personalities who take it in turns to play the role of professional stripper in the opening scene. Will your star turn be singer Rob Mills? Radio presenter Lehmo? AFL’s Brodie Holland? Or one of the actors Andrew Doyle, Mike Snell or James Elmer?
The idea of getting your kit off to earn some money is, it has to be said, not an original one. Ask a zillion women since clothing was first worn.
But the idea of a male burlesque show – famously launched by the Chippendales dancers – was so novel in 1979 that its organisers faced a host of lawsuits.
By 1997, when The Full Monty movie first screened, the Chippendales were established, “quality” entertainment so the film’s pretext – a group of Yorkshire factory out of workers banding together to raise some dosh by staging their own amateur strip show – was funny enough to resonate. The budget movie was a huge hit, partly for the cheeky content, but more for the down-to-earth humour and the nuanced relationships – both within the band of misfits that lead character Gaz (Robert Carlyle) collects together, and their broader family ties. An Oscar-winning soundtrack didn’t help, either.
The musical version, first performed in 2000, didn’t have the same impact and I suspect what was missing was the ability to build those multifaceted friendships. A later play version that opened in the West End in 2014 ended its run early, after only a month.
Playwright Terrence McNally wrote the script/book, Americanizing the setting to steel workers in Buffalo NY and changing a few names but otherwise sticking fairly closely to the original plot.
Maybe my ears aren’t as attuned to the American humour but I found the banter and wit missing in the dialogue – with the one exception of the character of Jeanette (Barbara Hughes), a veteran musician who appears from nowhere to accompany the guys on piano and frequently steals the show with her droll observations and scandalous commentary.
The characters also battle with an added degree of whining and malcontent that blocks some empathy. Lead character Jerry Lukowski (Scott Mackenzie), who needs money to pay his ex-wife maintenance so he can keep seeing his son, refuses to take on a number of “lesser” job offers, and his best buddy Dave (Giancarlo Salamanca) also writes off several job ideas as “women’s work”.
Yes, these are flawed characters and we need to see them self destruct a little to appreciate their later redemption and renewed confidence through teamwork and risk-taking, but at times it’s hard to ignore the inner indignation at some of these attitudes to really care.
Still, this is the script the players are dealt and there are still plenty of belly-laugh moments, and some rather touching ones.
The original score by David Yazbek is quite challenging for the cast, with unusual harmonies and keys, but only one duet is a little off tone. The on-stage musicians are not only consistently excellent but add to the visuals.
Sophie Weiss and Ana Mitsikas, in the role of wifes Georgie and Vicki, are particularly strong vocally, as is Scott Mackenzie, and young Alexander Glenk as Nathan Lukowski shows talent.
The auditions and the suicide scene are highlights, showing some comedic and dance skills that aren’t fully tapped by the script (Wem Etuknwa as “Horse” has some great moves). The simple, industrial-feel set also warrants a mention for its quiet efficiency.
With songs taking up a larger proportion of the show, some of the storyline is compressed, so it all feels a bit rushed at the end with first Dave and then Jerry getting cold feet, but the final “reveal” is redemptive and cleverly managed with excellent props, costumes, choreography and lighting.
It’s a fun night out in a glorious heritage theatre and the all-Australian cast are a joy to watch.
The Full Monty
book Terrence McNally | music and lyrics David Yazbek
Director Drew Downing
Venue: The National Theatre, 20 Carlisle St, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 3 – 19 March 2017
Tickets: $49 – $74
Bookings: 9525 4611 | www.nationaltheatre.org.au