The Full Monty, playing at San Francisco's Victoria Theater, will, in the end, win you over. But it's a bit of a slog to get there.
Your mileage may vary, but you'll be fighting off the endless machismo, the jokey take on suicide, the backgrounding of women and their stories and the pastiche of a score, not to mention the foregone conclusion that a big final number will make everything OK – until you finally yell "uncle," and allow yourself to see the wooden types filling with blood and air.
At that point, very late in the evening, the show finds itself and connects. It's a little engine that could, and does.
If you remember the film of the same name, you'll already know the outline of the story. In the Broadway version, Buffalo steelworkers, thrown out of work, see their wives' fascination with a visiting Chippendales show, and plan their own version of the striptease they believe can help them with their debts, both general and very specific (The lead character Jerry Lukowski, played by James Schott, needs money to pay his child support, lest he lose the right to visit his son.)
There are moments of pure, musical joy in the show. One of the men, a mousy worker who eventually connects with another man in the troupe, loses his mom and sings the ravishing "You Walk With Me" which turns from a reverie about his mom to a sense of connection with his new friend. Jackson Thea as Malcolm MacGregor has the voice of an angel.
Another special number calls on the one black dancer in the newly formed troupe of male strippers to transform from old and arthritic to supple and lithe. Albert Hodge as Noah (Horse) Simmons, delivers that physical miracle perfectly. You will have to battle through the not-too-sly suggestions that "horse" earned his nickname because of his prodigious member, even if he eventually concedes that the nickname is something he doesn't always live up to. It's running joke that the shortest and skinniest of the troupe is, in fact, the one with the "goods." But I have to admit I spent some cringey time coming to grips with all this.
As for the two leads, Lukowski and his full-figured friend Dave Bukatinski (Chris Plank) are a pair in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, a thin one and a fat one, and I'll leave it to you to decide whether the message of body positivity and anti-fat-shaming lands, or is just a muddle.
Adrienne Herro and Briel Pomerantz have lots to sing and say as wives of two of the dancers, but they're mostly asked to stand by their man, and the scenes they are in fail the Bechdel test. Sure this is a show about guys, but for me the women, even when they're scaring the bejesus out of guys with potential criticism of their asses and other assets ("The Goods") lack a fully formed humanity of their own.
So how did the show, on the way to its baring (almost) all win me over? Once the guys take the stage for their final number, we know them and we feel that they’ve become a bit more than mere types. They're willing to give their all to support each other, to hold their families together, to find community with their hard-pressed neighbors. If only we'd been brought along more intimately and earlier on their journey, we would have been rooting even harder for them to succeed in taking it all off and being able to "Let It Go."
[Image: (L-R) Front: Stephen Kanaski as "Ethan Girard," Arthur Scappaticci as "Harold Nichols" and Albert Hodge as "Noah Simmons"; (L-R) Back: Jackson Thea as "Malcolm Macgregor" and Chris Plank as "Dave Bukatinsky" in Bay Area Musicals' production of THE FULL MONTY, directed and choreographed by Leslie Waggoner. Playing thru March 15, 2020 at San Francisco's Victoria Theatre. Photo: Ben Krantz Studio.]
Produced by Bay Area Musicals. Running through March 15, 2020 at the Victoria Theater, 2961 16th Street, directed and choreographed by Leslie Waggoner, with music direction by Jon Gallo.