Stripping Bare

Hilarious and profound, Arizona Rep's "Full Monty" probes what it means to be a man

The clothes do come off at

the end of "The Full Monty," a Broadway musical based on the 1997 movie. But the out-of-work working-class men are stripped bare long before the climactic one-night-only show.

Nothing reveals a man's insecurity and vulnerability quite like unemployment. Losing a job is enough to make anyone feel naked.

A half-dozen desperate former steelworkers figure they can earn some easy money taking it all off — going the full monty — at a local nightclub. They've already lost so much. Might as well lose their clothes too, says Jerry, the ringleader of the bunch.

The musical, which earned 10 Tony Award nominations, is set in Buffalo, N.Y., a switch from the British setting of the movie. Watching these guys rehearse for their big night is a ton of fun, as you might expect. But the musical is much more than a rollicking good time. It's a powerful, deeply felt story about six men struggling to feel like men again.

"The Full Monty" comes fully alive at Arizona Repertory Theatre, thanks to a student cast that beautifully conveys what it's like to find dignity and meaning in a mean world.

The collective despair of the unemployed steelworkers is achingly rendered in the first song of the night. But director Danny Gurwin makes sure that "The Full Monty" hits all the right notes. With a tender book by Terrence McNally and a thrilling bunch of songs by David Yazbek, it's funny and touching in equal measure.

Although there is not a weak link in this cast, the show's enormous success starts with the six actors who play the diverse bunch of steelworkers: Ethan Kirschbaum, Charlie Hall, Chris Okawa, Josh Dunn, Aaron Arseneault and Brian Klimowski.

The women match the men every step of the way, delivering more than a couple showstoppers. It's a shame I don't have the space to print the names of every single one.

Trust me, there is lots of good stuff in this show, which finds lots of ways to ask the same question: What does it mean to be a man?

Jerry claims their act will top the Chippendales because they are real men, not some perfectly toned pretty boys of questionable sexuality. But at one point, they realize, with horror, that the women watching them might behave exactly like men. You know, see them in purely physical terms, eager to point out their every shortcoming.

The audience last Friday night was in no such mood.

"I liked Jerry's grind," said a woman of a certain age after the show. "We're old, but we're not dead!" her friend replied.

Sing it, sisters.

The Full Monty Presented by Arizona Repertory Theatre

7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Theater is dark Thanksgiving weekend. Shows resume in December, at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5 and 6, and 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7.

$31; discounts available.

Runs about 2½ hours with an intermission.


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