The Full Monty at the Ordway bares the naked truth: Men’s insecurities uncovered with warm humor

October 28, 2009.By Quinton Skinner, City Pages.

The musical based on the British film The Full Monty masquerades as a lighthearted show about some unemployed men who find a bit of redemption through a wacky scheme to strip for money. And while its happy surfaces and ample charm make for a vigorously diverting night out, its undertones plunge into the recesses of male pride and ego, not to mention the desperate squeeze felt by those who have skills but no opportunity.

Not that the thing requires a doctoral dissertation to illuminate its depths—this Theater Latté Da production amply delivers warm humor and plenty of reasons to tap your toe. But by the time we've finished, we've run through an exhaustive list of male horrors: uselessness, ugliness, impotence, even the inability to hold on to one's children.

The plot centers on Jerry Lukowski (Joshua James Campbell), a steelworker left at loose ends when the plant where he worked shuts down (the action is transported from England to Buffalo, which has its own brand of rusty ennui). He's split from his wife, Pam (Stacey Lindell), and has visitation rights with his son, Nathan (Jake Ingbar), who seems to have mixed feelings about time spent with dear old Dad.

When a crew of Chippendale dancers descends on their little world like a band of marauders intent on throwing the local women over their shoulders and having their way with them, Jerry and his buddy Dave (Zach Curtis) decide to intervene. Instead of prevailing, the two find themselves hiding in a restroom stall while Pam and Dave's wife, Georgie (Catherine Battocletti), talk about their men. Jerry, in their view, doesn't seem capable of doing much with his life. Dave hasn't laid a hand on Georgie in recent memory.

The horror. The duo's humiliation is compounded by an encounter with ripped stripper Buddy (Tom Danford), in which Jerry's repellent homophobia is trumped by the first inkling of his plan to strip for dollars. Campbell's Jerry is a working-class rooster with a chip on his shoulder; Curtis's Dave, by contrast, has a sheepish streak of self-loathing that makes it hard to envision a reality in which anyone would pay money to see him drop trou.

Oh, but we're not in the real world here, not anymore. The closest thing to a recognizable scenario is found in Pam's new beau, Teddy (Danford again), who has a swell job and clearly intends to steal Jerry's son as well as his ex-wife. Jerry is reduced to standing on their doorstep, hatching limp protests and howling up at his son's window for some tiny affirmation of his fatherhood (one that never arrives).

Throwing more cold water onto this plethora of phallic shrinkage are such tunes as "The Goods," in which our heroes have assembled their dance team, only to be regaled by female voices delineating their physical shortcomings. And by the time our boys are about to go onstage, even the guy called Horse (Reggie Phoenix) makes a last-second confession that his endowment is merely average.

So a show about unemployed, disempowered males saving the day by waving their junk at the world turns out to be a fantasy powered by insecurities that would have sent Dr. Freud scrambling to his snuffbox. Who knew? In a show in which two characters sing a gleeful tune about how they will save a friend from suicide by cheerfully murdering him ("Big-Ass Rock"), we probably should have gleaned that there were dark things moving beneath our line of sight.

One needn't dig too deeply into The Full Monty. It's a tuneful, silly thing. Or it's a prophetic glimpse of the forces at play when millions of men find themselves idle and out of work. Take your pick, I suppose.