With The Full Monty, BDT shows it has skin in the game

You wouldn't expect this production of The Full Monty at a dinner theater — not so much because of the script, but because of the daring with which it's staged. Places like Boulder's Dinner Theater are kept alive in large part by church groups and Rotary-type clubs, and they need to play things safe — particularly after losing a week of shows to the Boulder floods. But I've seen for a while how artistic director Michael J. Duran would like to try new things and attract a younger, hipper, more alive crowd, and a BDT performance often feels like one of those gorgeous, multi-colored hot-air balloons perpetually straining against its tether.

The Full Monty is a variation on the British movie, moving the story of a bunch of out-of-work guys to Buffalo, New York, where they've seen the females in their grimy town go crazy for a Chippendale-type stripper. The men need money — and they also desperately need the approval of their women — so they decide to stage a show of their own. They may not have impressive biceps, gorgeously defined abs or sinuous dance moves, they figure, but they do have the essential equipment.

The scheme's primary mover is Jerry. He's separated from his wife, and his inability to keep up child-support payments may lose him all contact with his son. His best pal, Dave, also unemployed, is eating himself into obesity and too depressed to make love to his wife, Georgie. Then there are those who join the troupe: suicidal Malcolm; Ethan, who turns out to have a significent hidden asset; and Horse, an arthritic African-American who hobbles in to audition and blows everyone away with his rendition of "Big Black Man." Finally, there's efficiency expert Harold, who put the others out of work and is now on the dole himself — a fact he conceals from his materialistic wife, Vicki.

All these guys are regular working stiffs, mildly homophobic, not much given to introspection. But in the course of the action, they change. In a particularly telling scene, they're stripped to their shorts for a rehearsal, flipping through a girly magazine and commenting in song on the bodies in the photographs: "She got the face...she got the goods...she got a butt like a battleship." And then they look at each other and realize, with a shock of horror, that their own very imperfect goods are about to be judged in the same way. In this communal nightmare, the women come forward: "He's fat, he's old, he's skinny, he's bald...."

The script skates over some gritty realities, and the women aren't always believable. Georgie, so hard-edged at first, turns out to care more about Dave's self-esteem than the family's financial peril. On learning Harold has lost his job, materialistic Vicki assures him she loves him for himself, not his ability to provide. But most of the dialogue crackles, and the songs are filled with humor and feeling.

The actors at BDT often radiate an enthusiasm that ransoms even mediocre scripts, but under Beyette's direction, they achieve something more. There's just a touch of ferocity in this warmhearted show, supplied by the performances of two of the women: Norelle Moore, with her slightly threatening slutty beauty as Estelle, and the edgy Amanda Earls, who gives Georgie so much passion you wonder how poor Dave — even newly invigorated — is ever going to keep up with her. Joanie Brosseau pulls out all the zany stops as Vicki.

But this is really the men's night, and they easily hoof away with it. Seth Caikowski is a wonderful Jerry, tough and touching, athletically light on his feet, and he gets strong support from Joel Adam Chavez (Dave), Scott Beyette (Harold), Burke Walton (a sweet-voiced Ethan), Brett Ambler (Malcolm) and Robert Johnson (Horse). These guys put everything on the line. The nudity isn't absolute (except for a brief second), but they do have to show a lot of skin, and it takes guts and vulnerability to get naked — physically and emotionally — in this intimate venue. But the ending is pure exhilaration as six gorgeous studs — skinny chests, jutting bellies, white legs and black socks notwithstanding — triumph over the uncaring universe to the joyful shrieks of their women. And somewhere, that great multi-colored balloon has slipped its tether and begun to soar.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman