April 07, 2020

Ellsworth musical exposes a softer side Relevance revealed in ‘The Full Monty’

Usually we like our strippers to have great bodies. But if the six laid-off factory workers who take up stage dancing to pay the household bills in “The Full Monty” were buff and beautiful, there’d be no story. And anyway, exposing a flabby derriere is nothing compared to the determination and victory in this blue-collar Broadway musical about disenfranchised men getting their mojo back.

Running through Nov. 5 at The Grand in Ellsworth, “The Full Monty” takes place in the beer-drinking, trash-talking circles of Buffalo, N.Y., in the immediate aftermath of a millworker shake-up. One of the newly jobless, Jerry, has to come up with some cash quickly or his ex-wife will end his visits with their young son. The desperate dad sees that local women have no problem stuffing their hard-earned cash from Wal-Mart into the G-string of a Chippendales dancer on Friday nights. So Jerry dreams up a routine for him and his friends – minus the G-string.

Their wives, girlfriends and even the Chippendales dude are juiced about the show. But can Jerry pull it off – literally? And are clunky, sometimes chunky, bubbas the best way to teach a musical theater audience lessons about class, homophobia, racism and self-worth?

Turns out: Yes. Or “Hell yeah!” – as the Buffalo boys might say. The show, which was a British film before American playwright Terrence McNally adapted it for Broadway, is equal parts bawdiness, brawniness and tenderness. The tenderness comes across in sappy ballads. The rest is delivered in drum-driving, horn-blowing, guitar-winding, piano-pounding rock beats. The band, led by Glenn Colby, is hot, but it’s also loud, so consider a seat in the back of the Grand.

All the better to see the full scope of “The Producers”-like chair dance by choreographer David Lamon, who turns the non-movers in the cast into entertainingly decent hoofers. Director Ken Stack does the rest with a handful of local actors whose talents get unleashed in full TGIF spirit. The story may revolve around Josh Schmersal’s anger-ridden Jerry, but it belongs to Dominick Varney, Ed Michaels, Greg Young, Heather Astbury, Brianne Beck, Jeffrey Farrell, Josh Snowden and Crocker Nevin. And it may be naughty to say so, but real-life cabaret singer Roberta DeMuro kicks butt in this one.

The show is ribald, all right, but it’s also relevant.

“You can’t consider ‘The Full Monty’ to be cutting edge,” said Stack. “But for Ellsworth, it’s something that hasn’t been seen before. It’s a contemporary show speaking of the way we live today. The play could be set in Lincoln, Lewiston or Brewer. It talks about our life here in Maine. But what this plays does so well is say: Don’t be judgmental. Accept people for who they are. Accept yourself for who you are. Go full monty with your life.”

Do members of the strutting sextet take it all off? You won’t find the answer here. And if you blink, you may not find it at the end of the show either. Yeah, backsides are bountiful onstage, but it’s more for the adult themes and language that the Grand won’t admit anyone under 17 without an adult chaperone.

“The Full Monty” will be performed 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 5 at The Grand Auditorium in Ellsworth. For information, call 667-9500 or visit www.grandonline.org.

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