- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

Does he or doesn't he? Will they or won't they? Whether the cast will bare their private parts on a public stage is the overriding issue in "The Full Monty," the Broadway musical that opened Tuesday at the National Theatre for a two-week run.
On grounds that it is cruel to keep readers in suspense, the answer is that they do go the whole way the title comes from an English expression of disputed origin equivalent to saying "the whole nine yards" but, in truth, unless this reviewer has badly aligned spectacles, only the lighting engineers would know for sure because of a clever, very fast, high-tech fade-out at the show's close.
Slick and snappy and full of more vim than Viagra, "Monty," which is on the third stop of its first national tour, might be just be the spirited tonic Washington needs as an antidote to all the grim news and talk of terror in recent months. There are bawdy jokes and belly laughs galore in a production that could sell itself on energy alone. Seeing a live orchestra perform in the fabled theater's pit is an extra high note.
You can't find a bad apple among the cast of 21. The characters are broadly drawn, bordering on cliche, yet the actors manage to bring them alive as individuals: the gay man, fat man, black man, shy man, uptight man, divorced man. Wives are all angels, but, heck, this is escapist entertainment, and they can be forgiven their annoying virtue.
Part vaudeville and part drama, the show equally might be titled "testosterone follies" because the bulk of its 2 hours consists of joking references to various portions of the male anatomy. Even so, there is nothing on view likely to surprise or offend immature audience members, many of whom see far more blatant exhibitionism in movies and on television every day.
And they don't always see how well humor can be wed artistically to humanity, something this show attempts in a number of ways to illustrate the value of friendship and family life. A scene in a cemetery segues from the sight of characters' gyrating backsides to a rhythmic version of the Lord's Prayer and then into a poignant lyrical duet of two men at graveside who discover they can love and comfort one another ("You Walk With Me").
Granted, much of the emotional content is no better than what is delivered by soap operas only here much exaggerated and occasionally overacted. That didn't bother an opening-night audience, which gave the cast a standing ovation. It's hard to resist the broad-beamed antics and charm of Carol Woods in the role of hard-boiled Jeanette, the piano accompanist who has been married eight times, or Cleavant Derricks as a middle-aged security guard (Noah "Horse" T. Simmons) with a bad hip and nimble feet who has a double life as a song-and-dance man.
For those few souls among the theatergoing public who may not be familiar with "Monty," the plot turns on the plight of a group of unemployed steelworkers who try making a go of it, and earn some much-needed money, by performing an amateur male striptease act in imitation of one enjoyed by their much-employed wives and girlfriends.
Made originally as a film (without music and ballyhoo), the script by Terence McNally has changed considerably since its inception. The setting now is Buffalo, N.Y., rather than Sheffield, England. Music and lyrics are by David Yazbek.
The second act drags somewhat while tying up elements of a very loose plot, but it's a triumph at the close as the six steelworkers, performing as the Hot Metal troupe, adapt some of Michael Jordan's moves from the basketball court to their striptease routine.

***1/2
WHAT: "The Full Monty"
WHERE: National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
WHEN: Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. through July 21
TICKETS: $35 to $75, available at the National Theatre box office or through Telecharge at 800/447-7400
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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