There was obviously more than a little political confluence to Middleton Players Theatre’s decision to lead off its new season with a two-performance production of “The Full Monty” on May 28-29. Unlike blue-collar Buffalo, New York, where the Americanized stage version is set, Madison doesn’t have a fleet of steel workers crawling its streets. But we’re clearly on the list of states where voters were motivated at the ballot box last November by shifts in the U.S. economy.
And truthfully, it’s not hard to imagine Jerry (Andrew Lonsdale) and Dave (Dan Jajewski), the two unemployed factory guys who serve as the musical’s sad-sack heroes, as potential Trump voters. God knows they could both use a double-dose of hope and dignity: Jerry’s divorced, behind on child-support payments to ex-wife Pam (Katy O’Leary) and at risk of losing access to his high-school age son (gamely played by Eli Kuzma).
Meanwhile, Dave’s ever-burgeoning gut and flagging sex drive has his wife, Georgie (a bold and boisterous Alyson Barrett) wrangling the girls for a night with a traveling group of Chippendales.
Naturally, Jerry and Dave decide to cash in on this stripping gig, too, leading to enough physical comedy to fill a pair of size 46 jeans. Man boobs, spare tires and pigeon chests abounded, and the audience lapped up every wiggle, jiggle and pratfall.
Andrew Lonsdale had more than enough bad-boy bluster to play Jerry, although the songbook didn’t suit his vocal strengths the same way shows like Music Theatre of Madison’s production of “35MM” did. Jajewski got major points for committing to a role that displayed his physique at every opportunity. He did a great job bringing the audience along through his discovery of self confidence.
The show set up great opportunities for actors in minor roles to shine, and most of them took full advantage. As Vicki, the enthusiastically materialistic wife of former factory boss Harold (Dennis Yadon, wry as usual), Anna Pfefferkorn owned “Life With Harold,” her big musical number. Pat Hetland stole huge chunks of the show as a chain-smoking ex showgirl/pianist. As the (respectively) meek and masochistic members of the crew, Gavin Waid and Nick Zuiker brought the humanity and the humor.
The outsized musical numbers—songs like “Michael Jordan’s Ball” and “The Goods”—grabbed the audience by the throat. But it was a quieter tune that hit home more effectively. “You Rule My World,” a sad ballad that finds Yadon’s Harold idolizing his wife while Jerry sings to his snack food was both comical and sad, a real moment of emotional reveal for both characters.
“The Full Monty” treats its gender viewpoints with about as much grace as the guys execute their dance moves in the first cover-your-eyes rehearsal. While it was great to see well-rounded, strong female characters like Pam and Georgie, the notion that (gasp!) doing housework or temporarily taking a menial job is a mortal blow to one’s masculinity is a view both antiquated and tough to get behind. It’s odd that Teddy (Chad Peck), Pam’s potential new husband, was portrayed as mean-spirited and, worse, swishy. It’s obviously part of the show’s blue-collar vibe, but again, being a responsible adult isn’t something villainous, even if it gets in the way of the hero’s redemptive narrative.
Most of those troubling bits were swept away as building enthusiasm for the guys’ big debut approached. Part of the reason director Matt Starika-Jolivet opted for this particular show is its just-be-yourself message. By the time the blinding backlights obscured the lads ripping off their skimpy thongs, that’s the vibe, if not the visual, with which we were left. (Thankfully.) Much of the audience could have stood in for the female ensemble members who whooped and hollered for more.
This was MPT’s annual production in which the company barrels through set construction and rehearsals in the space of a month, only to perform here and be gone in the course of a weekend. As always, it’s an impressive feat. And, as always, it’s enough to make you wish they had opted for a second and/or third weekend of shows.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning theater coverage for madisonmagazine.com.
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