Pillbox

The Full Monty plays at Philip Chosky Theatre

I spent this Friday night waiting anxiously for the chance to see some all-American hunks bare it all. I almost didn’t score tickets to the School of Drama’s production of The Full Monty, but I was committed. First on the waitlist, I rushed to my surprisingly good seat smack in the center of a totally occupied row toward the middle of the Philip Chosky Theater. The crowd buzzed with anticipation, a decidedly middle-aged and suit-wearing audience for a musical about male strippers. The set blended two worlds: a glitzy curtain of streamers suitable for Chippendales and rusty metal scaffolding perfect for an upstate New York steel mill. The lights went down, and I was at a freaking strip show.

The premise of The Full Monty is simple, if a bit contrived. Six unemployed, depressed, altogether average Buffalo millworkers turn their desperate sights on a new line of work, one that’s hotter than a steel rod straight from the furnace — and twice as hard. They’re led by Jerry, a divorced father and the man with a plan who I’m not sure deserves to be the show’s protagonist. Think of Jerry as your sexist bum uncle who’s always pulling get-rich-quick schemes out of his ass; he’s the least compelling and least likable character of the bunch. This is no fault of senior drama major Nick Sacks, who played him earnestly and amplified his main redeeming feature: love for his teenage son Nathan (played by junior drama major Nathan Salstone), whom Jerry will lose custody of if he doesn’t come up with his half of the support money. Sacks and Salstone communicated a powerful father-son bond that cut through the unlikelihood of the plot.

The shiniest jewel in The Full Monty’s G-string was the supporting cast. The funniest song in the show was “Big Black Man,” the stripper tryout of a — ahem — not-so-big middle-aged black man misleadingly nicknamed Horse (played by Avery Smith). I honestly have no idea how Smith managed to be sexy while wearing trousers up to his belly button and dancing a medley of the 70s’ greatest hits. But my favorite of the unlikely strippers was Malcolm, played by the hilarious and adorable Josh Grosso. Jerry and his self-conscious best friend Dave (played by senior drama major Michael Leadbetter in a fat suit) collect Malcolm for their team after saving him from a suicide attempt brought on by his crippling friendlessness.

One of the show’s most memorable songs — “A Big Ass Rock,” which listed several comic ways a guy might kill himself — was also the one I had the hardest time laughing at. But Leadbetter saved the otherwise cringe-worthy scene with his formidable talent for physical comedy. For one, his impromptu stripper audition featured what can only be described as a full-body hip thrust minus the hips. For a character we meet when he’s about to off himself, Leadbetter presented a Malcolm who was probably the show’s most joyful character — once he finally has friends. He also snags a boyfriend in fellow amateur stripper Ethan (played by senior drama major Adam Stern-Rand), a character whose two defining characteristics are “dumb” and “jaw-droppingly large schlong.” Still, the boys’ gorgeous duet (“You Walk with Me”) and not-so-subtle handholding at Malcolm’s mom’s funeral brought on all the emotions. I’d like to survey the audience, but I called it the second Malcolm and Ethan simultaneously make a Sound of Music reference. Let’s just say I can spot homoerotic subtext a mile away; it’s an art.

The women of this show deserve a special shout-out. Despite the casual misogyny and hyper-inflated masculinity complexes of characters like Jerry, who’s definitely compensating for something, the women of The Full Monty were unquestionably badass. They carried the most electric group numbers — “It’s a Woman’s World” and “The Goods” — and gave the show heart. Refreshingly, this show skips the meet-cutes and the getting-togethers; it drops us instead right in the middle of two marriages. Dave and Georgie (senior drama major Erika Olson) and Harold (senior drama major Chris Garber) and Vicki (senior drama major Amanda Jerry) are in parallel rough patches, but their love for one another shines through the depression and humiliation of unemployment. Both pairs have fabulous chemistry, though I sort of fell in love with Vicki’s boundless enthusiasm for the team’s poindexter choreographer Harold. I caught a serious case of goose bumps during Georgie and Vicki’s reprise of “You Rule My World,” earning it a place among the few love songs that don’t make me want to hurl.

A show like The Full Monty has to have a happy ending, in more ways than one. Jerry’s league of everyman strippers — dubbed “Hot Metal” — opens their one-night-only show for what seems like the entire population of Buffalo. They’ve promised their audience, myself included, “The Full Monty.” Both audiences whooped for this mediocre yet charming strip show, waiting with baited breath for these believably average dudes to show their moneymakers. The final moment came with blinding stage lights. I didn’t see much, besides a few dangling silhouettes. In the end The Full Monty wasn’t about going all the way, but about holding tight to the people you love and having a crazy, off-color journey. Turns out it’s all in the foreplay — though no one’s about to say no to a spectacular finish.