|The guys get ready to "Let it Go."|
And now, what's worse, I have to let everybody know I was there, because . . . well, because it was just about the best large-ensemble musical I've seen in these parts since Candide (which we only speak of now in hushed, hallowed tones). I'm not kidding. The Boston Conservatory kids definitely went the full monty with The Full Monty. Yeah, the notorious split-second of actual nudity was there (in a blast of backlight!), but that's not really what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is a crackling, top-notch production by a crowd of young talents (male and female) that bested the professional versions I've seen of this show. Yeah. That's what I'm talkin' about.
Director Laura Marie Duncan (Boston Conservatory '94) was actually in the original Broadway cast, and while her production never felt like slavish imitation, it was also clear that her experience had given her the edge of knowing the show inside and out; there was a level of attention to detail here that's rare in Boston direction - Duncan found moments, in fact, that I hadn't imagined you could find in this material.
But then I admit I'm not that big a fan of The Full Monty anyway (although after sitting through Next to Normal, I admit it's looking better and better in retrospect). Its chief flaw, which it shares with so many other new and newish musicals, is a so-so score - and then there's the fact that its plot slowly abandons the gritty edge of its supposed premise (the collapsing economic and social status of men) and begins to grind against the limits of its soft-core marketing tease. Will they take it all off? Will they take it all off? There are only so many way you can ask that question, and The Full Monty basically works them all; and would we smile so broadly at a musical that giggled about women being forced to become strippers? Somehow I don't think so.
But if Terrence McNally's book in the end only does lip service to the social and sexual issues it pretends to raise - well, McNally is nevertheless an old gay Broadway pro, and has, as they say, a talent to amuse; so Monty, studded as it is with jokes and asides and show-bizzy gambits, does mostly amuse; indeed, I think through its patina of raunch you can still perceive, if you squint a little, the tatty razzle-dazzle of the likes of Hello, Dolly!
I suppose all that was neither here nor there to the kids of Boston Conservatory, however; they just wanted to put on a good show - and they did (and then some). Led by the dynamic Keith White as ringleader Jerry, the central sextet of regular Buffalo guys who don, then doff, thongs for the first time - Stephen Markarian, Daniel Plimpton, Trevor Hannigan, Shayne Kennon and Avery Smith - were all solid gold, and they were backed by compelling turns from Meryn Beckett, Niki Sawyer, and Margaret Lamb as the women in (and half out of) their lives. Meanwhile Corey Mosello was hotness incarnate as the stripper whose act first gives the boys their bright idea, and sixth grader Andrew Horowitz was poised and affecting as Jerry's mortified son Nathan. But the show was probably stolen by Hayley Lovgren's hilarious portrayal of the grizzled rehearsal pianist Jeanette; somehow this college student channeled perfectly the gonzo, possibly bonkers optimism of every showbiz survivor everywhere.
Meanwhile down in the pit, the band was tight, as everything - set, costumes, choreography - clicked nicely onstage. Indeed, the only thing not to like about this Full Monty is that, well, it's over; Boston Conservatory productions generally only run a weekend. Which I'm sure leaves quite a few of our local theater companies sleeping a little easier at night.