The first act of Mercury Players' production of The Full Monty is so limp it appears to be suffering from a bad case of erectile dysfunction. Fortunately there seems to be some Viagra backstage, and the second act springs to life before achieving a boisterous climax.
Based on the British comedy film of the same name, this musical version is relocated to Buffalo, N.Y. The story is of a group of steelworkers who are struggling with the debilitating effects of chronic unemployment. When one of them sees what a Chippendales dancer does to the womenfolk of the town, he hatches a plan to start his own troupe of male strippers. He enrolls his reluctant buddies in his scheme to win back some self-respect, even if it means having to bare it all by going "the full Monty."
Ably directed by Pete Rydberg and choreographed by the ever-dependable Cynthia Severt, the play initially sputters along. Much of David Yazbek's music is reminiscent of someone else's style, but his lyrics are sharp, witty and often insightful. Unfortunately, it takes until a number called "Big Black Man," vigorously performed by James Macon Grant, for the evening to finally liven up.
But it is Terrence McNally's book that really hampers the show. The characters are thinly drawn, the dialogue stilted, the relationships only sketchily constructed. There are some effective moments, but the stakes, quite frankly, just aren't high enough to make you care. It's hard to believe this script was nominated for a Tony award.
Nevertheless, the cast perseveres valiantly. Of particular note are Jeff Godsey, whose offbeat delivery brings a real sense of freshness to his role; Cara E. Peterson, who imbues her character with some genuine emotion; and Marcy Weiland as a whiskey-soaked piano player on the downside of her own faded showbiz career.
The ensemble grows more energetic as events progress, and they really bring the room alive in the rousing finale. Even the songs are better in act two, especially the extremely moving "You Rule My World." The pit band, led by David Sytkowski, is tight and on tempo. The brass players are particularly strong.
If you're willing to ride out the slow start, you'll be rewarded with some uplifting moments at the conclusion. This production may not be the full Monty, but there are enough glimpses of the goods to keep you satisfied.
The Full Monty
Presented by Mercury Players Theatre at the Bartell Theatre, through Sept. 28