It's a blockbuster and a mold-breaker. It's a one-of-a-kind Broadway musical. And it is also the most daring, yet successful, Broadway adaptation of a movie script. It's "The Full Monty," and it's full value, plus.
But first, in the true Montyish spirit of full disclosure, "The Full Monty," which opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre last night, is partly produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures, producer of the original hit movie, and a subsidiary of News Corp., which also owns the New York Post.
And the show, from first to last, certainly owned me!
Despite the vociferous word of mouth that preceded the opening, it was somehow a show I had approached with a certain wary skepticism.
The original movie about laid-off steel mill workers in Sheffield, England, deciding to raise money and their manhood by moonlighting as male strippers, was embedded in its dour North England setting.
It could have proved fatal to shuffle it off to Buffalo, losing that special beer and skittles atmosphere of British working-class clubs and pubs. But it worked. I guess blue-collars are blue-collars the world over.
The sea-change also kicked in with a musical setting far more effective and convincing than would have been possible without it - the musical's vein of American pop, which seems so apt to the circumstances, just wouldn't have washed in Sheffield.
The story is simplicity itself - a will-they, won't-they saga with a shrewd turn of the tension at the end making the inevitable just a happy tad uncertain.
Yet there are also nice touches interwoven into the main theme of unlikely strippers - the divorced father fighting to keep visitation rights with his son, the fat guy battling not only modesty but also obesity, or the middle manager fearful of letting his vacation-happy wife know that he's lost his job.
Terrence McNally has produced the masterly kind of book that gives a chance for a musical to slide to heaven; it's beautifully integrated, it holds the musical numbers like a vise, and it's careful to shape every character.
McNally was, apart from the movie itself (which he clings closely to), the only known factor here. The unknown was David Yazbek and his music and lyrics - and they both work like a charm. The music has just the right surge and idiomatic pulse. The extraordinary, witty lyrics are a perfect joy.
Jack O'Brien's staging aims at keeping the intimacy and gentle honesty of the original while not sacrificing its particular brashness. It was a tight line to dance, but O'Brien has kept to it unerringly, while the integrated choreography by Jerry Mitchell is as carefully calibrated as it is perfectly unobtrusive.
"The Full Monty" must be the first working-class musical since "The Pajama Game" (we can discount "West Side Story" because no one there works!), but the tone is in every respect far, far more gritty and realistic.
This realism puts enormous pressure on the cast because real men don't sing, at least they don't sing as if they were in some kind of opera or musical comedy.
Yet the performers, nudged and cajoled by O'Brien, never put a vocal chord wrong. It's seems as natural as beer and pizza.
As the ringleader of the back to buff caper, Patrick Wilson is totally convincing, as is John Ellison Conlee as his weight-challenged buddy - both are so likable that the entire audience wants to invite them out for a drink.
Romain Fruge scores as a guy who dreams painfully of dancing up walls like Donald O'Connor, Jason Danieley is perfect as the shy mother's boy, as is Marcus Neville as the needy, nerdy foreman who comes through for the guys, and his wife.
The women, as in the movie, have less showy roles, but Lisa Datz, Annie Goldman and Emily Skinner are all, in their different ways, great.
Yet the two showstopper performances come from the older members of the cast. Andre De Shields gives a touchdown, yet touching, performance as an elderly black, full of sass and stereotype. And the gravel-voiced, creaky, cranky Kathleen Freeman as Buffalo's one showbiz veteran is adorable.
Try to see "The Full Monty" while its G-strings are still new, because they are due for a lot of laundering over the coming years.
Oh, and, by the way, in case you are in any doubt - I loved it!
So what do you want to know first? Do they really take off all their clothes? Yes. Can you see, you know, everything? No, at least not from where I was sitting. And -- oops, almost forgot -- is it any good? Well, put it this way: the Eugene O'Neill Theater won't have to look for a new tenant for a long, long time.
''The Full Monty,'' the hearty singing adaptation of the popular English film about a motley male troupe of amateur strippers, opened last night in a blaze of pure mass appeal. The show calculatedly pushes as many buttons as an elevator operator, but it mercifully doesn't hammer at them. With a winning, ear-catching pop score by David Yazbek and a lively gallery of performers who seem truly in love with the people they're playing, ''The Full Monty'' is that rare aggressive crowd pleaser that you don't have to apologize for liking.
Well, for the most part, anyway. ''The Full Monty,'' which began life at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, is leagues away from the classic New York musical, the sort of urbane, witty fare created by Rodgers and Hart, on the one hand, and Stephen Sondheim, on the other, and currently represented among nonrevivals only by ''Contact'' at Lincoln Center. The book, by the multiple Tony Award winner Terrence McNally, is sometimes as lame and pandering as a midseason replacement sitcom, especially in the first act.
Fortunately ''The Full Monty'' has more to do than just talk. And as long as it lets its ideally cast ensemble translate blue-collar blues into vigorous song, it's hard not to sigh in appreciation and relief.
Hokey, formulaic, vulgar, preachy: ''The Full Monty'' is all that, but it redeemingly tempers these traits with an honest affection. The warmth the evening gives off has less to do with the titillation of its central premise than with its enormous good will. And it makes other Broadway adaptations of hit movies -- ''Saturday Night Fever'' and the late, unlamented ''Footloose'' -- seem as blank and sterile as an unilluminated computer screen.
There are so many ways the production could have gone wrong, too. The original British film of the same title, which was directed by Peter Cattaneo and became the Cinderella sleeper of 1997, was a shrewd variation on the classic mainstream rooting movie (''Breaking Away,'' ''Rocky,'' ''Chariots of Fire'') in which underdogs triumph in a mist of sweat and tears. (It was made under the aegis of Fox Searchlight Pictures, which is a producer here, along with its former president, Lindsay Law.)
The revitalizing gimmick was undeniably catchy: having a group of unemployed steelworkers in the North of England come together to raise money by taking off their clothes in a one-night performance, emulating the touring Chippendales-style companies that have bewitched the town's working women. The story was simple, predictable and brazenly sentimental, kept this side of both bathos and slapstick by low-key, idiosyncratic performances.
There was something nervous-making in the idea of transplanting the plot to Buffalo for an all-American musical, a form that demands that everything be big. Scaling up the film's tear-jerking and ribald qualities and substituting the rah-rah antics of Buffalo Bills fans for scrappy soccer enthusiasts seemed to be a sure recipe for shattering charm.
The transformation is not without casualties. The characters in the musical are drawn more in crayon than in charcoal: they are baldly exaggerated types, defined by two or three large personality traits and no discernible interior life. And the pleas for tolerance -- for the identity crises of men out of work, for less-than-perfect bodies, for homosexuality (part of a late plot twist) -- that the movie kept sotto voce have been rendered by Mr. McNally with the equivalent of a rebel yell.
Yet while ''The Full Monty'' may not be subtle, it isn't shameless. Jack O'Brien's direction is disarmingly relaxed. And if Mr. McNally's book occasionally condescends to its characters, the performers themselves (led by Patrick Wilson as the earnest organizer of the strippers) never do. The broad mugging and rim-shot delivery that would seem to be unavoidable are consistently avoided.
The show is stocked with figures you would expect to be caricatures, from the prim executive and his shopaholic wife to the salty old retired club pianist who accompanies the men in their routine. Yet as embodied by Marcus Neville, Emily Skinner and Kathleen Freeman, respectively, these characters acquire a touching reality through judicious restraint. No one is pushing too hard.
There is also, conspicuously, Andre De Shields who, for the duration of his one big solo, seems to own the whole island of Manhattan. But more on that later.
The cast is immeasurably aided by Mr. Yazbek's score and lyrics, the success of which is the production's most refreshing surprise. Mr. Yazbek is a novice to the world of musicals, having worked mostly as a television script writer and a pop composer and performer. But he makes a much smoother transition to Broadway than more celebrated artists from the realm of pop, like Paul Simon (''The Capeman'') and Elton John (''Aida'').
Mr. Yazbek's ambitions are not lofty. He isn't trying to reinvent the organic musical or to out-Sondheim Sondheim. His formula is to infuse variations on top-40 styles, from the 1950's to the present, with Broadway brassiness. This gives his songs an air of immediate accessibility, even recognizablity. But they aren't the blatant pastiches that the numbers in, say, ''Grease!'' are.
Mr. Yazbek devilishly sends up the feel-good ''You've Got a Friend''-style anthem with a terrific number in which three men consider how they might assist one another in committing suicide. A homage to lost masculinity slyly incorporates the cowboy theme from those old Marlboro cigarette ads.
There's a propulsive, percussive rock drive in the opening numbers that set up the opposing camps of the hapless men and the women who, for once in their lives, are in economic control. The lyrics traffic in outlandish rhymes with open, silly self-delight, using brand names, celebrity names and a steady flow of obscenities.
The show is weakest on ballads, which tend to flow in a treacly stream that brings to mind B-sides of discs played on easy-listening stations. But Mr. Yazbek knows how to bring down a curtain with memory-grabbing melodies, nicely complemented by Jerry Mitchell's choreography, which cleverly addresses the problem of creating dances for men who aren't supposed to be able to dance. And there is a flexible variety in the assorted character-defining solos, like the ones performed with bright panache by Ms. Skinner and with deadpan panache by Ms. Freeman.
John Arnone's neon-toned sets, suggesting a coloring-book version of the industrial cityscape from the movie ''Flashdance,'' provide a fittingly bright frame for the performers, who are, after all, the main attraction. In the central role of Jerry, the young father struggling to scrape together money for child support, Mr. Wilson gracefully plays straight man to the eccentricities of the others, and he sings with shimmering sincerity. (His voice seems to emanate from his gleaming white teeth.)
Jason Danieley and Romain Fruge are delightful as the loopiest of the strippers, who discover a common affinity for ''The Sound of Music.'' John Ellison Conlee is understated and touching as the group's token fat man, and Annie Golden matches him as his patient wife. The protean Ms. Skinner, seen to very different effect in ''Sideshow'' and ''James Joyce's 'The Dead,' '' here suggests a delicious hybrid of Nanette Fabray and Vivian Vance. But none of the performers strike false notes, even when the script does.
There is also the formidable Mr. De Shields, who achieved fame on Broadway as a member of the top-drawer ensemble in the Fats Waller revue ''Ain't Misbehavin'.'' His character, nicknamed Horse, first shows up for an audition for the strip act. Arthritically gnarled, with the beaten, resigned expression of a man who expects nothing to go his way, Horse is not on the surface promising showbiz material.
But by degrees the old fellow unbends, thawing into pantherine agility with a resonant voice that growls, twangs and purrs. His number, called ''Big Black Man,'' is a spirited sendup of and salute to James Brown. Watching Mr. De Shields perform it brings to mind those providential thrills occasionally afforded by karaoke bars, when some lumpy sad sack takes the mike and lets loose with the sound of a Sinatra or a Streisand.
A loser becomes, for just a few minutes, a winner. That's the transformation that ''The Full Monty'' trades on, frankly and unpretentiously. Even those who go expecting to sneer are likely to be surprised by the smiles that keep sneaking onto their faces.
Audiences' established affection for good-natured naughtiness is amply indulged in "The Full Monty," Broadway's latest screen-to-stage transfer. By the standards of previous entries in this fast-growing genre -- "Footloose" and "Saturday Night Fever" for starters -- "The Full Monty" earns high marks. A working-class musical aimed at an accordingly broad audience, it's funny, earthy and appealingly performed. Challenging or interesting it isn't, however -- musically or otherwise -- and its G-string of a plot is stretched pretty taut across nearly three hours of stage time. Nevertheless, thanks to the name recognition provided by its popular screen predecessor, the show has a good chance at seducing a major audience, even if critics and musical theater aficionados may not be cheering along with the leering masses at the bump-and-grind finale.
The movie's North England locale has been switched to Buffalo, N.Y., but otherwise the stage version hews closely to the particulars of the hit movie, replicating most of the characters, plot hitches and even many lines of dialogue. Its core cast of working-class lads are again unemployed steel mill workers.
In the musical's engaging opening number, "Scrap," the men sing of their frustration at being robbed of their self-esteem along with their paychecks. David Yazbek, a composer and lyricist new to Broadway, invests this sharp-edged tune with exotic rhythmic colors reminiscent of British pop band XTC, an admitted favorite. The number, alas, promises more invention than the rest of the score really delivers, despite its polish and pleasantness; Yazbek mostly sticks to a mellow pop-rock idiom, with a few traditional Broadway pastiche numbers to spice things up. There's nothing to knock your socks off.
Much more than socks come off our protagonists, of course. Sneaking into the local Chippendales-style club one night, the show's central characters, Jerry Lukowski (Patrick Wilson) and Dave Bukatinsky (John Ellison Conlee), are abashed to hear the local women extolling the pleasures of financial and emotional independence in "It's a Women's World." They're also chagrined at seeing the cocky self-assurance of a gay dancer who's giving the girls such a thrill.
As in the picture, Jerry's in particular trouble, what with his ex-wife, Pam (Lisa Datz), threatening to take full custody of their son, Nathan, if he doesn't start paying his child-support bills on time. With his back against the wall, Jerry hits on the idea of staging a one-night-only strip extravaganza featuring "real men." With the promise of a $50,000 payoff in mind (surely a rather large sum for one night in Buffalo?), Jerry and Dave put together a six-man crew.
They're joined first by Malcolm MacGregor (Jason Danieley), whom they discover midsuicide attempt in one of the show's funniest scenes. The black-comic "Big Ass Rock," inspired by a few lines of dialogue in the movie, is a highlight of the score, in which Jerry and Dave discuss in song various ways in which they might aid Malcolm in his quest to off himself. While his music is not always flavorful, Yazbek's lyrics have an edgy, youthful flair that's nice to hear on Broadway.
Other recruits engaged at a casting call are a middle-age black man, Noah (Andre de Shields), nicknamed Horse for reasons celebrated, on the edge of tastelessness (not to mention racist-ness), in "Big Black Man"; Ethan Girard (Romain Fruge), whose qualifications are strictly anatomical; and Harold Nichols (Marcus Neville), a paper-pusher at the mill with an expensive wife, Vicki (Emily Skinner).
The den mother of this crew of exotic dancers is their pianist Jeanette, a character unique to the stage version who is played by veteran actress Kathleen Freeman in an immensely appealing turn. Freeman has many of the best wisecracks added to the film's supply by book author Terrence McNally, and her deadpan growl and memorable scowl are put to fine use in her role as the seen-it-all Jeanette. Her old-style showbiz number, less than inventively titled "Jeanette's Showbiz Number" is the biggest crowdpleaser in a show amply stocked with them.
Other appealing segments are de Shields' frenzied, fractured dance solo in "Big Black Man" and the first act finale, "Michael Jordan's Ball," in which this gang of gangly guys discovers that they can get those hips moving to music by conscripting their favorite basketball moves. Here Jerry Mitchell's elsewhere minimal choreography gets to strut its athletic stuff.
The performers are all genial and talented, with Wilson, veteran of some recent duds ("Bright Lights, Big City," "The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm"), getting a chance to shine in a more promising vehicle. Conlee gives a nicely understated turn as the chubby Dave. Aside from Freeman, the primary female roles go to a goofy Annie Golden as Dave's wife, Georgie, and Skinner as the greedy but sweet Vicki.
What is lost in the move from screen to stage are nuances and idiosyncrasies that, in truth, made up a large part of the movie's charm. These don't naturally translate across the footlights, so the characters and their crises feel accordingly more broad and generic, despite the best efforts of the actors under Jack O'Brien's smooth but bland direction. The touching inflections, surprising reactions and off-kilter humor that buoyed the film are necessarily replaced by more canned elements that can hit their marks within the rigid framework of a $7 million Broadway production.
John Arnone's set, for example, strives to give the show a funky frame by using machine-tooled materials -- corrugated steel and fencing painted in bright colors -- to accentuate the show's factory town milieu. But aside from an evocative backdrop of silhouetted smokestacks, it's nonatmospheric, Broadway-standard, and even a little cheap looking.
Actually, lively as it is, the show feels a bit machine-tooled, as have prior screen-to-stage musicals. "The Full Monty" is by far the most accomplished of the lot (the special case of "The Lion King" excepted), but it's hard to get excited about a trend that promises to bring Broadway only the fruits of accomplished translation, not original inspiration, musicals that give the audience what it has already consumed and approved, not something capable of delighting us more deeply, and for the first time.