Independent Melbourne company StageArt begins 2017 with a confident, large-scale production of 2000 Broadway musical The Full Monty, capably demonstrating that they can fill the stage and auditorium of a much larger venue.
Transplanted from the Sheffield setting of the hit 1997 UK film, Americanised musical The Full Monty follows the exploits of a band of unemployed steel workers in Buffalo, NY who are driven to create their own strip show. In desperation, they plan to outdo The Chippendales by going “the full monty” at the climax of their routine.
Esteemed book writer Terrence McNally imbues the musical with comedy and warmth while also incorporating men’s issues such as depression, suicide and sexuality. Composer David Yazbek draws from a range of eclectic styles in his music, delivering lyrics that are generally stronger than his melodies. Ballads “Breeze Off The River” and “You Walk With Me” are quite gorgeous, and climactic number “Let It Go” is a terrific toe tapper. Yazbek’s cleverest touch is the two versions of “You Rule My World,” sung at night by a pair of husbands to each of their sleeping wives, then reversed in act two as the wives affirm their devotion to their husbands.
The steel city setting is cleverly referenced in Robbie Carmellotti’s set design, which utilises metres of gleaming metal to frame the action and represent abstract scenic elements. Going upstage, the frames become smaller, giving the sense of additional stage depth.
Lighting designer Maddie Seach makes terrific use of the gloss of these metal frames, reflecting a multitude of colours around the set. Seach adds a range of textured effects to help create different scenes in the story. The missing element, however, is sufficient light on the actors so as to allow the audience to easily see their faces at all times. While some early missed lighting cues will surely be tightened, some blackout cues are set too early to allow the final moment of impact to land before the next scene change. The overall picture created by the lighting is highly attractive, and the number of cues is exatrordinary.
Costume designer Jodi Hope keeps a keen eye on the appeal of the overall wardrobe picture. The working class status of the men is conveyed with plaid shirts in muted, complementary colours, while the women, whose characters here lead more exciting lives, are dressed in vivid primary colours.
Music director Nathan Firmin’s programming of keyboards makes the band of eight musicians sound even more extensive. Vocals, particularly harmonies, are strong, although perhaps a little more shading in expression would have brought out some more of the subtlety and humour in Yazbek’s lyrics. Instrumentals and vocals are mixed and amplified with reliable precision by sound designer Marcello Lo Ricco.
Choreographer Rhys Velasquez adds plenty of gently humour to the mix, making a very convincing, and entertaining, showing of the men’s initial inability to dance. Velasquez astutely ensures that choreography seen in rehearsal along the way is used in the men’s final routine. The choreography deftly scores a nice laugh in act two when the men cannot help but subconsciously think through their routine to the tune of a funeral hymn.
Director Drew Downing makes an auspicious directorial debut in this ambitious project. Energy is kept sky high, to which the opening night audience responded with appreciative energy of their own.
With the orchestra pit covered, it seems an odd choice to set so much of the show so far upstage, missing the chance to make more of a direct connection with the audience. Movie adaptations always have a large number of scenes, and scene changes are a little slow at this point, increasing the already long running time. Given that actors are moving the props and that full blackout cannot be achieved because of the onstage band, scene changes in full light may have allowed a smoother flow.
A key feature in Downing’s work is the terrific range of colourful characters he has drawn out of the large cast, leading to many entertaining incidental moments in addition to the main action.
Scott Mackenzie is very well suited to the lead role of Jerry, an affable but down on his luck guy who is nobly driven to care and provide for his son. Mackenzie sings the role with a natural, comfortable tone that is underpinned by the character’s relentless drive.
Already impressively wise beyond his years, young actor Alexander Glenk is well cast as Jerry’s son Nathan. The pair are well matched physically, and enjoy an easy chemistry. The tension surrounding Jerry’s access to Nathan leads to the most affecting part of the pathos.
Giancarlo Salamanca appears to have burnt too many kilojoules in dance rehearsal, and dons some padding to play good-natured schlub Dave. Montgomery Wilson creates an endearing character as sheltered young man Malcolm. Adam Perryman has an infectious confidence as well-hung slacker Ethan.
Wem Etuknwa keeps a sparkle in the eye of Noah, who sees the badge of token “big black man” as both an honour and a pressure. Darren Mort has a commanding physical presence that slightly outshines the meek character of hen-pecked Harold, yet he lands the humour of the character in his own experienced style.
For a show that is primarily about men, the female cast is especially good, at times outshining their male counterparts.
The clear standout is Barbara Hughes, who is hilarious as sassy showbiz veteran Jeanette. Hughes’ expert comic timing allows her to land every laugh, and she often has the audience waiting in keen anticipation to see what she will say or do next.
Sophie Weiss sweetly conveys the tenderness and vulnerability that differentiates Georgia from some of the more outspoken local women. Weiss is charged with opening the show on stage alone, a task she handles with instantly engaging good will.
Ana Mitsikas brings a lovely polish to Vicki, a woman ostensibly obsessed with the material goods her husband can provide. Lauren Edwards effectively portrays the affection Pam once felt for Jerry, as the character tries to move on with her life.
Special mention is to be made of ensemble member Courtney Glass, who scores many a laugh as lusty local broad Estelle.
A fun night at the theatre, The Full Monty is a solid addition to StageArt’s repertoire of Broadway shows that are rarely seen locally.
The Full Monty plays at National Theatre, Melbourne until 19 March 2017.
Photos: Belinda Strodder