There's something amazing about being in a Broadway theater with
1,500 people who know they're about to get a glimpse of six naked penises. The feeling in the audience for The Full Monty is quite unlike the bachelorette squealing that greets off-Broadway's squeaky-clean Naked Boys Singing or the melancholy worshipfulness you find at a gay strip joint. As the moment in the show's finale approaches-where the guys whip off their G-strings-there's a sensation of rising panic and excitement that's anarchic, borderline orgasmic, and quite thrilling to behold.

Luckily, there's more to the musical version of The Full Monty than the countdown to a flash of genitalia (which turns out to be more flash than genitalia). As everybody knows, the musical is based on Peter Cattaneo's 1997 surprise hit movie about a bunch of unemployed British steelworkers who decide to improve their cash flow by putting on the regular-Joe version of a Chippendales strip show for one night only. The stage version is a lot of fun and successfully translates the movie's many charms, which is more than could be said for the crummy Broadway versions of Footloose and Saturday Night Fever. With its clever, tuneful score and its unexpectedly sophisticated treatment of what could become crude burlesque, The Full Monty calls to mind such underrated original musicals as Carol Hall's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Cy Coleman's The Life.

The composer, David Yazbek, comes to Broadway from rock and roll and Late Night With David Letterman with a refreshing blast of quirkily digressive lyrics and melodies that sound new (if not exactly groundbreaking). Terrence McNally has skillfully adapted the screenplay for the stage. Besides moving the action to Buffalo, N.Y., and plumping up the women's roles, he's created the character of rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister, an old vaudevillian played by deliciously crusty Kathleen Freeman, which helps establish the theatricality of the show as distinct from the movie's low-key naturalism.

As someone who's dealt with plenty of penises on Broadway (from The Ritz to Love! Valour! Compassion!), McNally also boosts the gay content. He's added a gay professional stripper who's fast with his tongue and his fists when confronting the homophobia of Jerry Lukowski, the main character (played by the excellent and foxy Patrick Wilson). And more is made of the budding love affair between suicidal mama's boy Malcolm (Jason Danieley) and the daredevil, horse-hung Ethan (Romain Frugé). When "You Walk With Me," the song Malcolm sings at his mother's funeral in a lovely Irish tenor, turned into a love duet with Ethan, there were tears in my eyes-and not for the first time in the evening.

As with the movie, lovable performances really make the show. How Wilson manages to be both charismatic and regular is a sweet mystery.

John Ellison Conlee as the barrel-bellied, butt-shaking Dave Bukatinsky is one game fat guy. And André De Shields hilariously channels James Brown in his envelope-pushing solo recounting the sexual allure of a "Big Black Man." The choreography by Jerry Mitchell, who came up with Kevin Kline's disco dance routine in the movie In & Out, inventively walks the line between butch and camp. In short, The Full Monty is about as enjoyable as a Broadway musical can be, given that it exists in a make-believe world where women have all the high-paying jobs and disposable income-a big lie, but, hey, that's entertainment!

The Advocate, December 5, 2000

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