THE FULL MONTY by Ray of Light is a hilarious, raucous treat.

Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrence McNally. Directed by Peter Cattanco. The Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St. (at Battery), San Francisco, CA 94111. : May 31 – June 30, 2012

THE FULL MONTY by Ray of Light is a hilarious, raucous treat.

Ray of Light theatrical troupe have a reputation for producing great musicals and they have proved it. They garnered multiple Bay Area Critics Awards for their 2011 production of Assassins and Jerry Springer the Opera in 2010. This year they grace the intimate Eureka Theatre with an enjoyable raucous staging of The Full Monty.

The non-professional cast seems to have as much fun as the audience but the total production does not capture the pathos or nuance written into the movie on which it is based nor the writing in Terrence McNally’s book adapted for the musical. The entire production is played for laughs as the male ensemble group progresses from klutzy amateurs to almost unified strippers.. In the process, they find renewed self-esteem, the importance of friendship and the ability to have a little fun in the midst of adversity.

The musical is well worth seeing since the deficiency in polish is overcome by the exuberance of the cast even though the onstage (back stage) band with an incessant drum beat often drowns out the lyrics. The purposely grungy set takes up the entire stage and for the opening and final numbers spills out into the front row. It is a marvel watching the stage crew, with help of the cast, making the scene changes flow relatively smoothly.

Terrence McNally has Americanized the original English movie version, moving the locale to Buffalo keeping the story intact and plausible. The Broadway opening in 2000 received 10 Tony nominations and ran for 770 performances and was described by Talkin Broadway as "one of the most enjoyable evenings in the theatre." That accolade still applies for this ROI production earning that standing ovation on opening night.

The derivation of the term “full monty” is questionable, but since the smash movie, The Full Monty, hit the screens in 1997, there is no doubt, that it means, “taking it all off.” As with all the musical stage versions you will have to wait until just before the final curtain when the six wanna-be sex symbol strippers get up enough nerve to “almost” do it. While you are waiting for that scene, be content with seeing an exuberant production that has a few showstoppers thrown in.

For those unfamiliar with the story and before passing out the kudos a capsule summary of the plot is in order. Six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers, low on both cash and prospects, decide to present a strip act at a local club after seeing their wives' enthusiasm for a touring company of Chippendales. That’s it. Yes there are sub-plots that add a touch of pathos to the non-stop enjoyment. That’s what a well written show does.

It starts out with instigator Jerry Lukowski (Joshua Fryvecind)), divorced and in arrears in child payments for his son Nathan (Elijah Diamond), overweight and sexually insecure Dave Bukatinsky (C.J. Dion)) and unmarried lonely Malcolm (David Mister). Former plant supervisor Harold (Derek Travis Collard) is blackmailed into being the choreographer. All shows need an audition and Jeanette Burmeister (Cami Thompson), a tough, seen-it-all showbiz musician who "shows up complete with piano” (in this case an electric keyboard) to accompany the boys' auditions/rehearsals.

The auditions are riotous and unexpected two more are needed to fill the necessary compliment of six. “Arthritic” Noah 'Horse' Simmons (Wendell H. Wilson) brings the house down singing “Big Black Man” with his comprehensive dance steps while denying the urban legend of his physical manly attributes. No dancing talent Ethan Girard (Ross Neuenfeldt), who longs to dance like Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain is “hired” for the size of his euphemism-inducing penis. Their lack of talent problems fall away when they discover that dancing is like a basketball game with just the right moves as they sing and dance to “Michael Jordan’s Ball.”

Sorry girls this show belongs to the men even though you have a great turn in “It’s a Woman’s World” and when Helen Laroche, Brie Martin wring a tear with a reprise of “You Rule the World.” The first showstopper by Fryvecind , Dion and Mister hits early in the first act when they have a ball with “Big Ass Rock” blasting Yazbecks inventive lyrics of the best way to commit suicide. With a series of hardships to overcome the group now called “Hot Metal” is ready for the show that will earn $50,000 for a one night stand.

Fryvecind fills the lead role with great assurance and a touch of insecurity as needed. C.J. Dion is perfect, both physically and vocally and gives a solid rendition in his duet with Derek Travis Collard in “You Rule My World.” Helen Larouche and Brie Martin give a charming touch to “You Walk With Me” and give great performances in their ensemble numbers. Cami Thompson gives a foot stomping, clap inducing performance, with the guys as backup, in “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.”

There are marvelous directorial flourishes with a touch of the risqué but always in good taste that the audience just gobbled up but there are too many of these superb touches executed by many members of the cast to fully describe in a short review. Ray of Light Theatre may miss the mark on some points in this production but the pluses far outweigh the minus This amazing production is well worth seeing.. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 20 minute intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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