Premiere issue Autumn 2002

'Full Monty' still at full throttle

Full Monty
Written by Terrence McNally
Based on the movie of the same name
Directed by Jack O'Brien

Nationally touring production

See profile of "The Full Monty."

You can come home again, it would seem. At least if you're a Jack O'Brien production returning to San Diego.

Just over two years after "The Full Monty" left San Diego's Globe Theatres for the bright lights of New York City, the nationally touring production returned to San Diego to a raucous, capacity crowd at The Civic Theatre the second week of October. While none of the original cast members remain, O'Brien's sure touch at the helm has kept the show's blue-collar charm at the fore.

Those who saw the original 2000 run at the Globe will find that little has changed. The set design is nearly the same, the costumes and makeup are largely unchanged, the songs are the familiar ones first heard locally.

The Full Monty
Carol Woods and Cleavant Derricks

And of course, the story of out-of-work steel workers who stage an amateur strip show to raise money and their egos is intact.

If the current touring cast doesn't have quite the same sense of camaraderie the original Globe and Broadway cast had, they certainly possess the same enthusiasm and energy. Although it might seem heresy to say so, the replacements for Andre De Shields (Horse) and the late Kathleen Freeman (Jeanette) are nearly as good as the originals, who frankly stole the show from the more prominent roles. Cleavant Derricks is as magical as De Shields as the older man struggling with the stereotypes of a black man's anatomy, while Carol Woods brings the same non-nonsense sass to the role of the stage veteran Jeanette as Freeman did.

While David Yazbek's original songs didn't seem that infectious during the initial run at the Globe, they've gained charm and allure since. From the edgy anger of "Scrap" to the rebellious fun of "It's a Woman World" to the melancholy of "Breeze Off the River" and the flag-waving "Let It Go," the music of "The Full Monty" holds up well.

"Big Black Man" has established itself as a stage classic — even if it was too soon to see that two years ago. Its daring willingness to take on racial stereotypes and sexual taboos, all within the confines of an accessible pop format, gives it a racy appeal that complements the strong melody.

The larger scale of the Civic Theatre seems a better fit for the ambitious "Monty" than its original setting at the Globe. While the Globe's main theater holds several hundred, the Civic Theatre easily takes in several thousand, with a stage of a proportionate scale. But audience reaction is an important part of this show — and the larger crowd creates a heightened air of both excitement and expectation.

And to answer the inevitable if unaskable — yes, the male cast members still go Full Monty at the conclusion, in a tasteful, discreet and wholly fun manner.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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