Two-time Emmy Award-winning sitcom star Sally Struthers, Tony Award®-winning actor Jarrod Emick, and Triangle theater legend Ira David Wood III, bring plenty of star power to the North Carolina Theatre's blockbuster production of The Full Monty, which is a timely tale about six increasingly desperate unemployed Buffalo, NY steelworkers who decide to swallow their pride and become male strippers and to top the Chippendales and other competitors by going "the fully monty" (i.e., ripping off their G-strings and baring all) in a last-ditch attempt to make enough money to pay their bills.
The irrepressible Sally Struthers is a scream as tart-tongued Jeanette Burmeister, the aging, overweight, chain-smoking piano accompanist for the six novice strippers. A sex kitten in the 1970s, when she played ditzy Gloria Bunker-Stivic in "All in the Family," "Archie Bunker's Place," and "Gloria," Struthers is now a plus-size scene-stealer who milks an ocean of laughs out of The Full Monty, like it was a herd of dairy cows.
Jarrod Emick, who won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical, and the Theatre World Award for playing Joe Hardy in the 1994 Broadway revival of Damn Yankees, gives another crowd-pleasing performance as divorced dad Jerry Lowkowski in The Full Monty. Although devoted to his son Nathan (Trey Fitts), Jerry is months behind in his child-support payments to his increasingly impatient wife Pam (Jennifer Shrader) when he comes up with his latest get-rich-quick scheme of organizing a group of male strippers from his beer-drinking buddies, such as roly-poly Dave Bukatinski (Joe Coots), who has a bad case of Dunlop's Disease (i.e., his belly done lop over his belt buckle).
Dave may feel like the biggest loser in Buffalo, but Coots gives a winning performance as a Michelin Man, whom his spunky wife Georgie (the equally spunky Julie Reiber) convinces to go through with his plans to take it off, take it all off. Raleigh's own Ira David Wood III, who made his reputation with his wild-and-crazy performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in his own musical version of A Christmas Carol, is a picture of restraint in The Full Monty, where he plays former steel manufacturing plant executive Harold Nichols, a fusspot boss who cannot bring himself to tell his wife, Vicki (Angie Schworer), that he too has been laid off.
Kingsley Leggs, who played James Thunder Early in NCT's 2008 production of Dreamgirls, adds a crackerjack comic characterization of Noah T. "Horse" Simmons and brings down the house with his raucous rendition of "Big Black Man." Stephen Schellhardt is amusing as mama's boy Malcolm MacGregor; Thomas Cannizzaro adds some slapstick humor as poor Ethan Girard, whose attempts to emulate Gene Kelly running up a wall in Singin' in the Rain threaten to put him in the hospital; and John Carroll is a pip as supremely self-confident male stripper Buddy "Keno" Walsh.
The snappy musical staging of director Matt Lenz and choreographer Josh Rhodes heightens the hilarity of this Americanized version of the Academy Award®-winning 1997 British blue-collar film comedy. Musical director Michael Horsley and a peppy pit band also enliven the proceedings, which unfold on a magnificently gritty industrial set designed by John Arnone, with John Bartenstein's lighting scheme and Robert Morgan's colorful costumes — especially Sally Struthers' lurid outfits — adding authenticity.
The Full Monty combines a lot of flash and a little skin into a highly satisfying musical for mature audiences. Leave you prissy friends at home; and enjoy a night on the town, with Jerry, Dave, Harold, and Horse really putting on a show — and fulfilling their hasty and much-regretted promise to go the full monty, if only for a split second before the final blackout.
The Full Monty continues through March 7th at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. See our theater calendar for details.