Oakland’s ‘Full Monty’: too long, but enjoyable

By Milan Paurich

Most of the production numbers lack energy.

The Oscar-nominated 1997 film “The Full Monty” ran a fleet, streamlined 95 minutes.

David Yazbek and Terrence McNally’s “Monty” musicalization runs considerably longer than that. Most of the extra time is expended on Yazbek’s songs, none of which are particularly hummable or memorable. Breezy indifference versus an hour-plus of mediocre melodic padding: Doesn’t seem like a fair trade, does it?

The “Full Monty” production that opened Friday night at the Oakland Center for the Arts to a packed house at least has the benefit of some gifted actors to make those additional minutes tick by a little quicker. But there’s no getting around the fact that “Monty” — like so many other movies that have received the Broadway musical treatment these days (“Legally Blonde,” “Young Frankenstein,” “The Wedding Singer,” et al) — worked better on screen and that the score is nothing to write home about.

Because the original “Full Monty” was a thoroughly British creation, the new “Monty”’s Yank book writer (McNally) and composer (Yazbek) have, not surprisingly, transposed the story and characters to an American setting, specifically Buffalo, N.Y. It’s one of their few inspired touches. Of course, if McNally really wanted to relocate the story to an economically ravaged, midsize American city, he could just as easily have picked Youngstown.

The plot and characters will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the film.

Unemployed steel workers Jerry (Ric Panning) and Dave (Tony Scarsella) decide to stage a one-time-only strip show featuring “real men” like themselves for the delectation of the local ladies who’ve been frequenting a Chippendales-like club. In short order, the guys manage to recruit four other down-on-their-luck dudes to share in the humiliation: suicidal mama’s boy Malcolm (David Munnell), “Big Black Man” Noah (Kenneth Brown), anatomically blessed Ethan (Gary Shackleford) and henpecked Harold (Brandon Smith).

Helping the boys rehearse for their big night is pianist/den mother Jeanette (Anna Frabutt), a role that didn’t exist in the “Monty” movie and which feels thoroughly redundant on stage. Jeanette’s big number (“Jeanette’s Showbiz Number;” duh) may be the closest thing to an old-fashioned showstopper here, but director Robert Dennick Joki’s lackluster staging prevents it from bringing down the house.

The somewhat rudimentary choreography — credited to Richard Bell — could have used some additional polish, too. Most of the production numbers are curiously listless and lacking in the sort of kinetic energy one expects from even a second-tier musical like this one. The major exception is the Act One closer, “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” in which the gang incorporate their favorite basketball gyrations to help get their collective grooves on during a particularly dismal rehearsal.

If I’m making “The Full Monty” sound like a chore to sit through, it’s not.

While the script could use some judicious trimming in its present form (especially in the overlong first act), Joki has been blessed with an appealing cast, even if some of the roles seem slightly miscast. Panning does a nice job as Jerry; unfortunately, he doesn’t look a day over 22. The fact that Jerry’s “son” is played by an actor (Joey Monda, nicely understated) who appears to be about the same age as his “father” was a suspension of disbelief I simply couldn’t make.

As likable as they are, neither Munnell or Shackleford are particularly credible as steel worker types. (The gratuitous subplot about Malcolm and Ethan coming out of the closet and falling in love during rehearsals probably should have been dropped since it adds nothing to an already overlong evening.) And the wisecracking Frabutt simply isn’t “mature” enough to convince me that old trooper Jeanette could have ever worked with the likes of Eddie Fisher, Buddy Greco and Frank (Sinatra).

A terrific Scarsella brings a Kevin James-ish everyman quality to doughy, disgruntled Dave that made him the clear audience favorite on opening night. Also very good are Brown; Alecia Sarkis (Dave’s long-suffering wife); Heidi Davis (Harold’s high maintenance wife) and the dependably great Eric McCrae as a professional male stripper who turns up briefly at the beginning and end.

The typically unprepossessing Oakland set features a wall-mounted urinal that’s front-and-center for the duration of the show; not a great idea or an appetizing sight. Somebody should have also noticed that Malcolm’s car has an Ohio — instead of New York — license plate.

As for the peek-a-boo male nudity promised in the title, I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing just how “full” a “monty” Joki really delivers. The sexually suggestive nature of the material — and some occasionally raunchy language — make it unsuitable for family audiences, however.

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