Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, February 2009

This is the third production of the stage musical of The Full Monty that I have seen – the second I have reviewed – and until I saw this mounting at the Cohoes Musical Hall I have been a staunch defender of the show as one with strong family values. “It is not a show about men taking their clothes off,” I have said. “It is a show about what it takes to allow human beings to feel lovable, be loving, and be capable of accepting love. It is about the sanctity of marriage, the strong bond of friendship, and the love between parent and child.”

What I learned at Cohoes is that when you take away all that other stuff,The Full Monty is just a show about men taking their clothes off.

They are performing the same fine script, music, and lyrics by Terrence McNally and David Yazbek that led me to my previous conclusions about the show. And director Tralen Doler has assembled a talented cast and given them some sharp choreography, but in this production it’s every man, and woman, for him/herself. There is an alarming lack of chemistry between the actors, and so you don’t feel the love or the friendship. You just see a lot of people singing and dancing and, ultimately, taking their clothes off.

Starting at the core of the problem Corey Wright is unable to bring much humanity to the central role of Jerry Lukowski. Jerry is a tough character in an even tougher situation. Unemployed and unable to make his child support payments, he is in danger of losing joint custody of his 12-year-old son Nathan (Garrett McClenahan) and what little dignity he has left. Jerry is impulsive and angry, and he hasn’t always made the best choices, but he is trying. The two things that motivate Jerry and keep him on the straight and narrow are his deep love for Nathan and his life-long friendship with Dave Bukatinsky (Andrew Hartley).

Wright is able only to give us Jerry’s angry, tough side. He says he loves Nathan, he says he’ll stick by Dave, but you don’t believe him. Jerry has to be charismatic enough to convince five other men to strip in public, after all. Wright is not. Nor is his voice always strong enough to project over the orchestra in the unmiked Cohoes Music Hall.

Hartley doesn’t have any more convincing chemistry with Wright than Wright has with him, and despite the valiant efforts of the appealing Mary Anne Piccolo as Dave’s wife Georgie, they never connect either. How can you root for these guys when you don’t believe in what they’re telling you is important to them?

Nate Suggs is completely endearing as the klutzy, geeky Malcolm MacGregor – his “bad” dancing is hilarious – but he too fails to make a believable connection with Gwendolyn Jones, in a brief cameo as his mother, or with Malcolm’s love interest Ethan Girard (Kyle Erickson Hewitt). Suggs and Hewitt blend voices nicely on the beautiful and moving number You Walk With Me but I didn’t get that sense of two wounded souls reaching out to one another that are key to that scene.

The one couple with some sparkle are Karla Shook and Sky Vogel as Vicki and Harold Nichols. These two area stage vets look comfortable and relaxed together on stage, and you appreciate the happy ending McNally gives them. (The major differences between this musical stage version and the 1997 non-musical film are the American setting, the happy ending for Vicki and Harold, and a complete lack of garden gnomes!)

Along with Piccolo and Shook, the other woman who rules the stage is Jones in her major role as Jeanette Burmeister, the old show biz diva who just shows up at the guys’ rehearsal, piano and all. Her Act II opener Jeanette’s Showbiz Number brings down the house.

Poor old Noah “Horse” T. Simmons doesn’t get a love interest, although there is a hint that he and Jeanette strike up a friendship, but that doesn’t stop Russell Joel Brown from giving the role a lot of heart. “Horse” is a tricky role to play because it must invariably be cast with an actor considerably younger than the character. It is one thing to act older, but singing and dancing “old” is much, much harder. Simmons does a masterful job of reining himself in just enough to help us believe “Horse” is over the hill, while still dancing up a storm in his solo Big Black Man.

In addition to the six leads, both Brad Wilcuts and Michael Hayes gamely strip to their skivvies – Wilcuts as Keno, the professional stripper whose performance gives Jerry his big money-making idea in the first place, and Hayes as an inept audtioner.

And since this production is all about men taking their clothes off, let’s talk about that final moment. It should be a joyous one, and it MUST be a carefully staged one. In the original Broadway production the men were brilliantly backlit at that moment when they raise their hats – a technique that masks any nudity by both slightly blinding the audience and presenting a nice image of the six men in silhouette. It had not occurred to me that Doler and lighting designer Evan Purcell would not take that route, but they didn’t. They chose instead to go with a blackout, which is a much less reliable method of ensuring the actors’ modesty. If that blackout is even a split second late...

Jen Price-Fick has done a great job with the overall set deign – brick walls and steel girders overarch the stage and serve as teasers and tormentors – but some of the individual rolling set pieces are shoddy, notably the car in which Malcolm attempts suicide. I doubt that the budget was any larger for the 2005 Theater Barn production than it was here, and they managed to rig up a more convincing vehicle on a smaller stage.

There is still a lot to enjoy in this production of The Full Monty. In fact, most people probably go thinking it IS a show about men taking their clothes off, and those folks will certainly not be disappointed. Doler is noted for his choreography, and he does not disappoint here – even cleverly adding comic dance bits to cover the many scene changes required by the script. Khryn Diotte Rigney has done a good job of adding bits of color and pizazz to the blue-collar, work-a-day costumes, and the Cohoes Music Hall pit band, under the direction of Joshua Zecher-Ross, sounds fabulous as always.

The C-R productions presentation of The Full Monty runs from February 20-March 8 at the Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen Street, Cohoes, NY. Performances are scheduled for Thursday-Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3 p.m. The show runs three hours with one intermission and is definitely "R" rated for rough language and partial nudity. Tickets range from $23 to $32. Call the box office at 518-237-5858 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009

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