Onstage: Bare Essentials

'Full Monty' offers caricatures rather than characters

Mark Lyons

(L-R) Mitchell Walker, Danny Visconti and Colt Prattes star in The Full Monty.

The musical theater program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) always does an impressive job, even with shows that don't deserve it. Sometimes mediocre material is redeemed. And sometimes a production overshoots the work itself. That's the case with The Full Monty (a Broadway hit from 2000 based on a popular British film from 1997). Director Aubrey Berg has unshackled a talented cast, delivering a production that's superficially entertaining but empty at a more profound level.

In case you don't recall, Monty is about a group of out-of-work guys who decide to make a quick buck by assembling an amateur strip act for a one-night performance. Jerry (Colt Prattes), a divorced dad who's behind on child support, is the ringleader; he persuades Dave (Mitchell Walker), his overweight buddy, to join him. They recruit four others (Sean Montgomery, Danny Visconti, Pearce Wegener and Josh Breckenridge) to form "Hot Metal," an act so unlikely to succeed that the only way they can attract an audience is to promise to do "the full Monty" — that is, to strip completely.

But here's the rub: These six actors never convinced me that they were anything but talented young performers pretending to be blue-collar guys with no talent. That's a problem with concept of the musical version of The Full Monty.

The actors have to be average Joes who can sing and dance while appearing amateurish. At Patricia Corbett Theater it's evident, especially when their clothes are removed, that these guys are fine dancers with great voices. It's hard to fault them for that, but that's not what this show is about.

Walker has put on some pounds (and a mullet haircut) to play Dave, which he does sympathetically and amusingly. His "You Rule My World," sung to his gut, is funny and sad. As "Horse" Simmons, Breckenridge is more convincing in a role that reaches beyond his undergraduate years: He startles with his "Big Black Man" number which features cool dance moves and an overlay of arthritis. But as low-life Jerry, Prattes is too likeable, too confident and too polished as a performer to make me believe in him.

Pamela Myers, a CCM grad and Broadway veteran (she's a member of the CEA Hall of Fame), plays Jeanette, Hot Metal's salty rehearsal pianist who's meant to be around 70. Myers has the chops for the role, but like her fellow performers she's too young. She has some memorable moments of brutal reality with the self-conscious guys, but her performance feels more like a guest cameo than a character integrated into the story.

Jerry's son Nathan (Jake Bridges) is supposed to be 12 years old but looks more like a younger brother (Bridges is a freshman, Prattes is a senior). Sara Sheperd plays Georgie, Jerry's loud but loving wife; Jen Temen is high-maintenance Vicki, whose dance-instructor husband (Montgomery) tries to teach dance routines to the guys. Sheperd and Temen have an especially affecting duet in the second act when they reprise "You Rule My World," expressing their depth of feeling for their spouses.

The Full Monty is nicely realized by scenic designer Brian Ruggaber. The rear wall is three stories of walkways that represent the shut-down factory and a variety of other scenes, nicely evoking gloomy Buffalo. (There's even a rusty old car, although it's a Toyota: Wouldn't these guys have opted for an American car?) By flying in some neon (for the strip club) and light towers (for the culminating "Let It Go" dance routine), the show finds its necessary visual spice; CCM student Jonathan Fuchs designed the lighting.

While The Full Monty is not a great piece of musical theater, CCM audiences will enjoy this production. But I was disappointed by easy — if entertaining — choices that didn't dig down to the bare essentials behind these people. It's the difference between caricatures and characters. Grade: B-

THE FULL MONTY, presented by the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, continues through Sunday.

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