Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Matthew Pennaz, left, Malcolm Rolsal, R. Andrew Doan, Howard Bishop, Christopher Obenchain and Brent Yoshikami are the men of "The Full Monty" at Diamond Head Theatre.

‘Full Monty’ reveals
some naked truths

"The Full Monty," presented by Diamond Head Theatre, continues at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 9. Tickets are $12 to $42. Call 733-0274 or visit www.diamondheadtheatre.com

Anyone concerned that Diamond Head Theatre's production of "The Full Monty" may show more, er, "monty," than you care to see displayed in public, don't worry.

Lighting designer Dawn Oshima and director/choreographer Timothy Albrecht have everything perfectly synchronized. You'll see the dancers' bare buttocks just long enough to confirm that, yes, those six men have no clothes on, but at the precise moment that they turn to face the audience and go "full monty" the house lights drop. All you see are silhouettes.

That's how it should be. Not because of the double standard Americans have about male vs. female nudity, but because "The Full Monty" isn't about naked men dancing. This modern American musical is about friendship, love and the hard times that destroy some relationships and strengthen others.

The steel mills have laid men off in Buffalo, N.Y. Guys who took pride in supporting their families are at loose ends. Jerry Lukowski is months behind on child-support payments and may lose visitation rights. Dave Bukatinsky has been so emasculated by his reduced circumstances that he's lost his sex drive and finds solace in junk food.

A chance encounter with a male stripper gets Jerry thinking. If women -- including his ex-wife and her friends -- pay big bucks to watch men strip down to G-strings, how much more would they pay to see everything? Jerry figures he has nothing to lose, and decides to create his own all-male revue.

Matthew Pennaz is perfectly cast as Jerry, a decent guy whose love for his son drives him to extraordinary circumstances. The role requires a singer/dancer/actor who can play comic in one scene and dead serious in another. Pennaz doesn't miss a beat.

R. Andrew Doan (Dave) makes his Hawaii debut an empowering example for every man in Honolulu who doesn't live in a gym. Paunchy working-class schlubs are familiar comic characters, but the comedy here is balanced by Doan's deft work in several poignant scenes.

Brent Yoshikami (Ethan Girard) uses his skills as a physical comedian to play a would-be stripper who likes old musicals but can't hit the marks. Howard Bishop (Harold Nichols) has several good scenes as the former mill boss who fears his high-maintenance wife will leave him if she learns he is running out of money; the guys hated working for him, but need him because he knows how to dance. Malcolm Rolsal (Noah "Horse" Simmons) brought down the house on opening night with his showcase number, "Big Black Man," a song that lays to rest an old-time American stereotype in fine comic style.

Christopher Obenchain (Malcolm MacGregor) completes the troupe as a sensitive but suicidal security guard. Obenchain shows his comic skills working with Pennaz and Doan in Act I, then shares a pivotal musical number with Yoshikami in Act II.

Director/choreographer Albrecht does excellent work in both areas. The comically bad dancing in the audition scene, and the sudden breakthrough represented in the "Michael Jordan's Ball" number, advance the story rather than just extend the running time. The many comic scenes are crisply paced, but Albrecht pays equal attention to the darker scenes that give the audience reason to care about the characters.

The story isn't all about the men. Vanessa Manuel-Mazzullo (Georgie Bukatinsky) makes an impressive step up from ensemble parts to a major supporting role as Dave's long-suffering wife. The ensemble work she does with Suzanne Green, Alison L.B. Maldonado, Renee Noveck and Callie Shrader Doan makes "It's a Woman's World" an eloquent statement from the female perspective. An early scene in which the five women take over the men's room at a Buffalo strip club is beautifully staged and well played.

"The Full Monty" is a modern American fairy tale. The men learn to dance in time for the show. The show sells out. The women in their lives enthusiastically support their unconventional fund-raising scheme. Several couples find their relationships strengthened. Racial stereotypes are pushed aside. Two gay men find companionship. Jerry Lukowski makes good on his child-support payments.

Judged by the sum of its parts, this surprisingly enjoyable musical is about much more than men dancing naked.

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