The Full Monty at the Lichfield Garrick
The Lichfield Operatic Society
Review by Jono Oates
Sometimes it’s hard to remember the end of a book, film or musical, even if you’ve seen it before. But most people can remember the ending of the Full Monty film or musical because of the infamous closing sequence – The Reveal. Before the curtain comes down the pants come down and all is finally revealed to the audience…well…almost all…
Full Monty is the latest production from the Lichfield Operatic Society at the Garrick theatre. Last year I saw them perform the wonderfully polite, witty and polished My Fair Lady, all crinoline dresses, top hats and walking canes. This year’s production is…well…nothing like that…
The film My Fair Lady, starring the inimitable Rex Harrison, was based on the stage musical, which in turn was based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, and this is how a lot of musicals reach cinema audiences. But in this case the film came first, followed by the musical. The 1997 British film was a massive hit, with its reputation enhanced by the appearance of Prince Charles performing some pelvic thrusts with the cast in the dole queue to the Donna Summer classic Hot Stuff. This production however is the American stage version of it, initially performed on Broadway – so the action (and the accents) moves from the steel city of Sheffield to the steel city of Buffalo, New York State.
The musical is essentially about a group of steel workers who have been thrown on the scrap heap when their factory is closed down. Desperate for work one of the gang comes up with the crazy idea of them becoming male strippers. The twist is that they will be every day, overweight, unfit and crumpled working class Joe’s rather than the buffed, chiselled and toned dance troupe, the Chippendales. They agree to make the show a one-night stand to make a financial killing but, when it becomes clear that the ticket sales will raise peanuts, they reluctantly agree to bare everything and do the ‘full monty’ at their one and only performance in front of 1000 screaming women. Will the boys dare to bare all or will they spare their blushes and keep their hidden assets…hidden…
The cast is led by Patrick Jervis as Jerry Lukowksi, the chief engineer of the plan. Patrick is a regular performer in Lichfield Operatic Society productions, has a lovely singing voice and displays both strength as the leader of the motley crew of reluctant performers but also shares some tender moments with his young son Nathan, played with cheeky charm by young Zephan Rowe (this role is shared with Nate Wallace on alternate nights). Ben Green is the big hearted, and big chested, Dave Bukatinsky who has a number of great self-deprecating lines and throw-away gags and who struggles deciding whether to perform in the show at all or take a ‘proper’ job, as his relationship with his devoted wife Georgie, played by Connie Ross, unravels. Ben Adams plays self-confident Ethan Girard who has a fascination with the character that Donald O’Connor played in the classic musical Singin‘ in the Rain and who somersaulted backwards while running up a studio wall – a feat which Ethan tries to reproduce…and fails…and fails…and fails…it’s a great running gag that makes you wince very time he hits the deck. Jonathan Blake is the wonderfully named Noah T Simmons, whose unwanted nickname is ‘Horse’, an ageing hoofer who shows that he can still throw some shapes and the guys’ old boss, Harold Nichols, is played by Chris Stanley who has managed to keep the news of his redundancy secret from his wife, played by the always excellent Kate Pinell, for six months.
The final member of the mismatched male strippers is Malcolm MacGregor, played by James Pugh. Malcolm is the stereotypical nerdy, Moma’s-boy, butt-of-all jokes, wearing black-rimmed glasses and striped sleeveless jumpers, whose main ambition in life is to end his own life as quickly as he can. Malcolm’s motto is: No friends, No life and No hope.
James’ performance is absolutely spot-on, he only has to stand still on stage to make the audience laugh (and at times, cry) out loud. He’s extremely funny as he attempts the most excruciatingly embarrassing pelvic thrusts and disco dance moves, and wonderful in the song Big-Ass Rock where Jerry and Dave ‘help’ him to discover new ways to commit suicide. As the musical develops we see that Malcolm also comes out of his shell, and becomes the cheer-leader for the group, there is also a very touching scene when his domineering mother passes away and we see his friendship with Ethan blossom into something more meaningful. A standout performance from James, displaying great comic timing but also drawing sympathy from the audience when he troops sadly off stage.
Strong supporting roles are provided by Vanessa Morgan as the vamp-ish Estelle, Lucy Surtees as Jerry’s estranged wife Pam, Clare Pugh as the cigarette-puffing, piano-playing Jeanette Burmeister, Hudson Mitchell as the Chippendales stud Buddy ‘Keno’ Walsh and a lovely cameo by David Hill as Reg, who is so desperate to get a job that he is prepared to sacrifice his own dignity by stripping off in front of his former workmates.
The show songs are perhaps not well known but there is a lovely mix of upbeat singalong numbers such as the closing Let it Go and It’s a Woman’s World to moving duets You Rule My World and Breeze Off the River both of which definitely tug at the heartstrings.
Musical direction is by David Easto and there are some fun and lively dance routines, with choreography by Charlotte Middleton.
The lighting is well focused, especially in the basketball scenes where the actors’ faces are caught in flickering spotlights, with lighting design by Stephen Rainsford.
The stage sets are simple and straight forward with some lightning-quick scene changes which make for a fast-paced show.
The show director is Lynne Hill who achieves some exceptional performances from a very talented, and experienced, cast.
Audeinces are often drawn to the Full Monty because of the final ‘Reveal’ (and on the opening night one of the cast suffered a costume hitch which almost resulted in a unrehearsed ‘reveal’ of his own!) and the split-second timing that ensures that the audience do not really see all of the actors’ outstanding attributes…but the Full Monty is much, much more than just a flash of light and a flash of manly flesh…it’s about dignity, self-esteem, friendship, despair, loneliness, grief, joy, happiness, isolation, camaraderie, rejection, equality and family values.
The Lichfield Operatic Society give us a Full Monty that doesn’t disappoint, that hits all the right notes, that leaves us uplifted, that inspires us, that makes us sad, makes us smile, makes us laugh out loud and makes us wipe away a tear…don’t go just for the Reveal…go for the whole picture of the Full Monty…
Full Monty by the Lichfield Operatic Society is at the main studio of the Lichfield Garrick theatre until Saturday 29 June 2019. Performance start at 7.30pm with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday 29. Ticket prices start from £17.000 and are available from the Garrick Box Office at Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 or book online at: www.lichfieldgarrick.com
*Please note that as well as the ‘reveal’ scenes there is some strong, adult, language in the show.
** Photo credit: Robert Yardley Photography