Monday, April 20, 2015

THE FULL MONTY Deserves a Full House!

From Left: Tyler Oshiro, Zachary Centers, Brandon B. Weaver (on
floor), Tanner Norbury,  Mark Putnam, and Keith White.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

While many of their shows are typical of traditional community theater offerings, in recent years Theatre in the Grove has also taken some pretty significant risks (think August in Osage County). However, nothing we have seen on a local stage can touch their current production, The Full Monty, for uninhibited, go-for-broke ballsiness (pun intended). Director Ken Centers and his amazingly courageous cast have set a new standard for cheekiness that will be hard to top.

Based on the original 1997 film, the musical version is transplanted from England to Buffalo, New York, where six out-of-work steelworkers, depressed and emasculated by unemployment, decide to emulate a troupe Chippendales dancers to raise some quick cash. The opening number sets up the fundamental problem – unlike Chippendales stripper Buddy (Dean Dwinn), the steel workers are anything but buff and they really can’t dance.  This is not a Disney show with a “Mighty Ducks” ending, so the second act brings no magical transformation (at least physically) of the ugly ducklings – but the psychological transformation is stunning. Wives, ex-wives, and 1000 other locals form a raucously appreciative cheering section for their hometown strippers when they learn that (unlike the Chippendales boys) the “Hot Metal” guys will go “the full monty” – take it ALL off.

Each of the six steelworkers (Tanner Norbury, Brandon B. Weaver, Zachary Centers, Mark Putnam, Keith White, and Tyler Oshiro) brings a unique character to the stage, but their real strength is in their comic exchanges and in the vocal and dance ensemble numbers.  Tyler Oshiro (as the exceptionally well-endowed “Ethan”) is hilarious in his fruitless but persistent attempts to emulate Donald O’Connor’s wall climbing routine, yet he displays surprising warmth and sensitivity in “You Walk With Me” with Zachary Centers (“Malcolm”). Centers, Norbury (tough guy “Jerry”) and Weaver (the somewhat corpulent “Dave”) are exquisitely droll in “Big Ass Rock,” one of the show’s funniest numbers. Once seen, we may never rid ourselves of the image of Weaver sitting on the toilet wrapping himself in Saran Wrap - but why would we want to?

Of course, it’s not all about the guys – there are several remarkable women in the cast. Alison Luey (Dave’s wife “Georgie”) brings the audience to tears in her beautiful reprise of “You Rule My World” with Wendy Bax. Leslie Collins (“Pam”) conveys, with surprising subtlety, her lingering fondness for ex-husband Jerry. Best comedienne honors go to Pruella Centers, whose crusty “Jeanette” delivers the bluesy “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number” and some great one-liners. However, Lindsey Bruno (“Estelle”) offers stiff competition when she drops trou to use the men’s urinal.  Deven Rieck also merits special recognition for his understated but often intense performance as Jerry’s 12 year old son Nathan.

Choreographer Jeananne Kelsey and vocal director Tiara Herr have done a fine job of whipping their talented raw material into a cohesive, but necessarily still raw and  chaotic, ensemble. The orchestra provides well-modulated support throughout, and they really cut loose at the beginning of each act. Ken Centers’ direction keeps the action moving constantly, with spotlights on small vignettes distracting the audience during scene changes. Lighting designer Ward Ramsdell and lighting operator William Gilbert brilliantly allow the cast to pull off The Full Monty’s full monty without violating public decency standards.

While definitely not family fare (please leave the kids home!), The Full Monty is lots of fun, terribly funny, and (despite some raunchy language) really very tasteful and at times quite touching. Local audiences are not likely to have another chance to see this show, so grab your seats while they are still available!

The Full Monty is running at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove through May 3d with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.

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