The British movie on which the musical The Full Monty is based premiered in 1997, but male strippers reentered the zeitgeist with last year's Magic Mike. Although the Jefferson Performing Arts Society production is filled with playful nudity (mostly butts), mild displays of sexuality and rough language (PG-13-rated penis jokes), the show gets audiences to root for the everyman.
The action is set in Buffalo, N.Y., but it could be any economically decimated manufacturing city where this group of laid-off steel mill workers are collecting unemployment. The men notice the women in their lives — who have assumed breadwinner roles after the layoffs — are paying big bucks to see male strippers at a local club, and soon the guys hatch a plan to create their own Chippendales-esque revue to pay the bills. These men do not look or move like Channing Tatum, but they believe their realness will be a draw — plus, they decide their show will leave nothing to the imagination.
At the heart is Jerry Lukowski, who is divorced and in danger of losing custody of his son. Keith J. Warren plays him with an affability that makes the deadbeat dad likeable, and he's got a flexible voice that nails the lively pop numbers. John North is charming and has good comedic sensibilities as Jerry's beer-bellied best friend Dave. Also among the men are Malcolm (played by the pure-voiced tenor John Michael Haas), who has a job but is unhappy for other reasons, and an enigmatic fellow called "Horse" (Hassan Allen), who sings about how being a "Big Black Man" makes him the center of women's fantasies.
The effervescent Morganna May-Bridgers leads the pack of women who find newfound power in turning the tables on gender roles. Claire Conti is a crowd-pleaser as a crass accompanist for the men's very amateur strip acts.
Toward the end of the second act, which drags a bit, the audience joins the characters in wondering: Will the guys actually give us "the full monty"? While it's not entirely clear if the men bared it all, some strategically placed hats and very creative lighting effectively created the illusion and made for an impressive finale. But stripped away from the titillating finale, the show is a celebration of hard work and tenacity, perhaps the sexiest qualities of all. — Lauren LaBorde