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'The Full Monty' takes off at Columbia's Slayton House

By Mike Giuliano

10:20 AM EDT, May 23, 2013

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Columbia's Slayton House has been turned into a strip club. The community center's eyebrow-raising transformation is only temporary, though, because its theater is hosting Silhouette Stages' lively production of "The Full Monty."

Although this Broadway musical is mostly good, clean fun, it's still best to leave the kids at home; for that matter, there are some adults who may not want to expose themselves to "The Full Monty." As for the rest of us, well, it's easy to get into the slightly naughty spirit of a humorous musical in which unemployed steelworkers in Buffalo strip for a worthy cause, namely, themselves.

The stripped-down narrative features ordinary-looking guys whose economic desperation induces them to stage a one-night-only strip show whose proceeds will help keep their families solvent. Never mind the logically inconvenient fact that many of the tickets are purchased by their equally struggling wives and friends.

What counts here is the let's-put-on-a-show premise that has been durable ever since Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney put on shows in the barn in those 1930s' musicals, though come to think of it, those juvenile movie stars were able to entertain audiences while fully clothed.

Anyway, it's amusing to watch such blue-collar types as Jerry Lukowski (Dean Allen Davis), Dave Bukatinsky (Micah Chalmer), Harold Nichols (Matt Melenas), Malcolm MacGregor (Matthew Acquard), Ethan Girard (John Aquila), and Noah (Horse) T. Simmons (Bobby English) try to shed their inhibitions along with their clothing as they rehearse for the special evening.

Much of the comedy in "The Full Monty" derives from watching their imperfect bodies attempting to perfect the dance routines. Belly laughs are provoked by some of these bellies.

Based on a well-received movie, this theatrical musical retains its festive spirit in the music and lyrics by David Yazbek. He adroitly conveys what it's like when a rough-around-the-edges ensemble of factory workers blend their untrained voices and uncoordinated bodies in such numbers as "Scrap," "The Goods" and "Let It Go." It's not the most sophisticated musical score you'll ever hear, but perhaps for that very reason it captures their can-do resolve. Yazbek complements his expected strength in such numbers with frankly unexpected tenderness in a few solo and duet numbers.

What really adds a welcome grounding in reality, however, is a book by Terrence McNally that periodically reminds us of the serious underpinnings for all the silliness. The steelworker who gets the most stage time, for instance, is Jerry. He's 32, divorced and in debt. Jerry has emotionally resonant conversations with his best friend, Dave; son, Nate (Jesse Kinstler); and ex-wife, Pam (Mary Guay Kramer).

And as this production's Jerry, Davis does justice to a solo ballad titled "Breeze Off the River" that underscores the show's heartfelt intentions.

Although the production is not exactly blessed with great singing voices, Davis and several others all have their share of bright moments. Their performances incorporate a variety of dance moves guaranteed to make you smile. As Simmons, English has delightfully energetic dance steps evocative of James Brown.

Among the actors playing the workers' wives, one who definitely merits being singled out is Beth Cohen as Harold's wife, Vickie. When she sings "Life with Harold," it's the quiet highlight of a show that understandably is more often associated with loud ensemble numbers.

Other actors in the considerable cast include Kathy Marshall, Lenny Taube, Reenie Campbell, Linda Ha, Angie Townsend and Joe Bohrer.

Co-directors Conni Ross and Debbie Mobley, choreographer Katie Sheldon and musical director Michael Tan keep the action moving along at an agreeable clip.

The only reservation about the directorial approach is that Ross and Mobley allow several performers to slip into near-caricature. "The Full Monty" admittedly lends itself to goofy slapstick, but it's inherently funny and does not need such overplaying to get a laugh. Indeed, the show takes off long before the guys take it off.

Silhouette Stages' production of "The Full Monty" runs through May 26 at Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Call 410-637-5289 or go to http://www.silhouettestages.com.