Filichia Features: Lights up for the Full Monty

Filichia Features: Lights up for the Full Monty

By Peter Filichia on November 09, 2017

She asked me not to use her name, so I won't.

Let's say that the woman has mounted four different productions of The Full Monty in three different states -- and that she had the same experience with each production.

The director from Maryland added that she had previously worked at three of these four community theaters, and each time she did, she found getting men to audition and commit to weeks of work for no money was murderously hard.

And yet, she reported, with The Full Monty a greater-than-average number of men showed up at each venue. "The ones I eventually cast whooped with delight when they got the news," she said. "They missed far fewer rehearsals than I've usually experienced with the other 20 or so shows I've done in community theater."

So what was the reason? The witty and perceptive book by Terrence McNally could be one. He smartly decided not to keep the action in Sheffield, England, where it was set for the 1997 Oscar-nominated film, but brought it to Buffalo. Both locales have experienced high unemployment, what with one company after another abandoning its factories.

"I'm glad McNally Americanized it," said the director. "When I watched the original film on DVD, I was really glad I hadn't gone to see it in the theater. The accents were so thick that I needed the subtitles."

So the men who worked at a Buffalo steel mill are on unemployment. Their wives are the breadwinners and have so much discretionary income that they can go to a Chippendale's-like club and watch men strip to their skivvies.

But these guys don't go "the full monty" - meaning 100% birthday-suit, buck naked. Jerry Lukowski decides that if he and his pals do that, they could raise a lot of money.

It's a terrific book, right down to The Sound of Music jokes. And the sound of Monty's music is marvelous, too. David Yazbek has been one of our finest musical theater composer-lyricists since he debuted with this score in 2000 -- and as you've been reminded since the recent Broadway opening of his The Band's Visit, he still is. His funky music surprises with unexpected notes that pop up with startling and surprising regularity.

Yazbek had no dearth of fresh ideas for lyrics. Two of the unemployed feel they have no chance of romance because "There's that horrifying moment when they ask you what you do." Mama's boy Malcolm is delighted when they guys accept him into the group: "I've got a friend like Carole King - or was it Carly Simon -- used to sing? I always get those two confused."

(And I've always heard that lyric get a laugh, even in Paris in 2013.)

Did Yazbek or McNally invent the character of Jeanette Burmeister? The original film didn't have this cantankerous former pro pianist who tells the seemingly hopeless strippers that "I've played for tone-deaf singers -- and once, when I insulted Frank, I played with broken fingers." (Why do I feel the "Frank" is Sinatra?)

That's a reminder that The Full Monty has nice roles for women, too - not just Jeanette, but all the wives as well.

Our director thought that neither the book nor score, superb as they are, were the reasons that the men showed up and stayed around. "I truly believe that they liked the moment at the end of the show when they were able to take off every stitch of clothing. There's something wonderfully liberating in being able to do that without being seen."

Those who don't know the musical might be puzzled at that last sentence. How can you be nude on a naked stage and not have anyone see you?

The answer: The Full Monty used a smart stage effect by having high-powered lights situated behind the men; the moment they ripped off their bikini briefs, the person on lights jolted the power to the level where the bulbs blinded the audience. No one saw a thing - literally and figuratively.

Said the director, "One of the men said he liked the freedom of being naked without feeling any embarrassment. And right offstage, right there in the wings, we had the men's initials in glow-tape so they could see where their clothes were and get dressed in the dark before we brought them out for curtain calls."

There's more: The Full Monty has Malcolm and Ethan, two men who are deep in the back of the closet. By the middle of the second act, both have dared to step out of it and become a couple.

"And in one production," says our director, "that actually happened. Love bloomed - not between the performers playing Malcolm and Ethan," she hastens to add. "It was the Jerry and Ethan who got together. When I saw Come from Away this spring, I ran into them and was delighted to see they're still together."

That's not all. "In one of my other productions," she continued, "the Malcolm and Vicki started dating and fell in love. I even got an invitation and attended their wedding."

Dear actors, maybe the same thing will happen to you. Don't do The Full Monty solely to have that wondrously liberating feeling of shedding your clothes. Do it and you might just find a life-long companion, too.

En route, you'll also get the chance to perform in one of the best and most fun-filled musicals of the new century.

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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at