The Full Monty

N.C. Theatre at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
Through March 7

Popular culture has a sort of carousel-like relationship to real life; it starts off as relevant, slowly fades into the past, then comes around to become relevant again. Such is the case of the 2000 musical version of The Full Monty, the adaptation of the hit film about laid-off mill workers who resort to stripping. N.C. Theatre’s production with Theatre in the Park mainstay Ira David Wood III and TV-rerun fixture Sally Struthers captures the crowd-pleasing aspects of the original story, though some aspects of Terrence McNally’s book could stand to be updated for the current recession.

The stage version moves the action from England to Buffalo, N.Y., where Jerry Lukowski (Tony-winner Jarrod Emick) is among the men left unemployed and emasculated by the closing of a local steel mill. Jerry’s behind on his child support payments, which threatens his relationship with his son Nathan (Trey Fitts from N.C. Theatre’s The Sound of Music).

Inspired by the success of some Chippendales dancers, Jerry and his friend Dave (Joe Coots) recruit a ragtag team of fellow workers for a one-night show, choreographed by former supervisor Harold (Wood), with music by the blowsy Jeanette (Struthers). Various complications involving the men’s embarrassment and personal travails follow, leading to the question of whether they’ll be able to go through with their opening night.

The original film reflected the real-world decline of steel mills in the English city of Sheffield; the U.S. musical premiered a few years later but prior to the economic downturns of the last decade. The material feels both relevant and slightly dated as a result. One of the running themes is the men’s reluctance to take demeaning jobs as security guards; in the current economy, they’d be lucky to even have those jobs available. Similarly, in this script the men’s prolonged unemployment is played in some ways as a refusal to grow up; a greater sense of desperation would improve the book.

Relevance aside, the cast has no trouble engaging the audience. Though David Yazbek’s music and lyrics are mostly forgettable, there’s plenty of exuberant footwork on display, particularly during the climactic number. (Reviewing the quality of naked rear ends is prurient and has no place in proper journalism, but I will say that overall there was more muscle tone than I had anticipated.) The cast all does solid work, with Emick a believable overgrown boy as Jerry and Coots a comic sad sack as Dave. Wood and Struthers have mostly supporting roles that appear midway through the first act, but they have plenty of fun with their material (and yes, Wood is part of the strip troupe).

In the current economy, The Full Monty‘s premise feels more relevant than ever, and while more could be done with it, the show succeeds in its main goal of showing audiences a good time. Certainly, the loud catcalls from the women (and a few men) at the performance I attended are evidence of this. And when times are tough, a bit of entertainmentbe it a strip show or just a musical about onecan offer the escapism an audience needs. It’s not the deepest show, but it is a fun evening’s entertainment with some middle-aged bums.