At first blush, the David Yazbek-composed musicals “The Band’s Visit” and “The Full Monty” don’t seem to have much in common; one’s the story of an unexpected meeting between Egyptian musicians and the Israelis of an isolated town, the other about unemployed steel workers in Buffalo, N.Y., who turn to stripping to earn money.
The latter show, based on a 1997 British film of the same name, is onstage in a warm production at Theater West End in Sanford. And a recent viewing jolted me into thinking about the similarities in the two very different shows.
Like the characters in “The Band’s Visit,” the six men at the heart of “The Full Monty” are trapped by their circumstances, their repressed emotions and society’s expectations. Suddenly, a show that goes for laughs by having Average Joes performing pelvic thrusts feels a lot deeper.
And beyond its cheeky fun, nicely captured in the Theater West End production, “The Full Monty” does have depth; the stage adaptation is by five-time Tony winner Terrance McNally, a force behind such thoughtful fare as “Ragtime” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” “The Full Monty” dives into the insecurities men face — the characters question the very notion of what it means to be a man — and it does so in the language and attitudes of its protagonists.
In this sensitive era, the 23-year-old show can jar as characters refer to gay men as “fairies,” or a song about ways to kill yourself is played for laughs. But director Myles Thoroughgood wisely doesn’t shy away from the material, instead he uses it to make these characters seem more real — and the more real they seem, they more likable they are.
Jerry is the ringleader of the bunch. He’s in arrears on his child support and is desperate to come up with quick cash so he doesn’t lose visitation rights with his son. He manages to coax best friend Jerry, former boss Harold and a trio of other abs-free guys to stage a stripping show after witnessing how much money the women of Buffalo are willing to hand over to a passing Chippendales troupe.
The script gets a lot of upstate New York right — the disdain for New York City, the love of Muenster cheese — though sometimes the actors sound more Brooklyn than Buffalo. Parker LaBonte’s sound design adds a lot to Derek Critzer’s utilitarian set, with cartoon-style offstage crashes and more.
Forrest Stringfellow is an affable and rootable workingman Jerry. Nico Querino and Nikolas Alexander Wendorf make a pair of sweet misfits, and Jamaal K. Solomon adds some gravitas as an older man who joins the troupe. (He also sings the crowd-pleasing “Big Black Man” with a devilish twinkle in his eye.)
Chad Campbell-Jordan and Amy Hughes are well-matched as a middle-class pair who find their love tested, and Katie Dumoulin and Ryan Campbell-Jordan add solid support as Jerry’s ex-wife and Davey’s passionate spouse, respectively.
I’ve seen two of the actors play their roles before, in a Florida Theatrical Association production of the show four years ago. Wendy Starkand once again brings fine comic timing and a cigarette-scorched voice to a world-weary showbiz vet — her bird’s nest pile of gray hair is a hoot — and Tad Kincade puts a lot of heart into conflicted Davey.
Out of curiosity while writing this column, I checked to see if the Chippendales troupe still exists. It does, with a residency in Las Vegas and tour stops across the U.S. and Europe. The website describes the chiseled dancers as the “epitome of masculinity.” “The Full Monty” will make you think twice about that — and laugh a lot while you’re doing so.
‘The Full Monty’
Length: 2:50, including intermission
Where: Theater West End, 115 W. 1st St. in Sanford
When: Through Dec. 3
Cost: $30 and up
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