Donna Sue Robson specialises in the communication- and healing-arts. Jamie Natural Health and Healing is her energy-healing consultancy. Her modalities, workshops and boutique natural products can be viewed and purchased from www.jamienatural.com.
You Can keep Your Hat On But The Cast Won't
So, do they go The Full Monty? As emasculation turns into real manhood, all is revealed The Full Monty is 'fun times with an 'all-male-view'.
Drop everything and get along to Stage Art's production of The Full Monty, The Broadway Musical which is now showing at St Kilda's National Theatre.
Lovers of the 1997 film will be intrigued to find that not only is this now a musical, which the script and film naturally lend itself to, but that the setting has changed. The Sheffield story that was based upon the lives of four unemployed steelworkers hit by the 1972 recession, has transmigrated to the American economically ravaged town of Buffalo, New York, famed for its Walmart culture and walk-through shopping malls.
Before viewing, I was unsure whether the set change was either necessary or intelligent. However, within minutes, the wisdom and success of this artistic decision (made, no doubt, to fundamentally appeal to American audiences) was apparent. Buffalo appeals to a 2017-crowd, and shines the spotlight on the personal effect that unemployment has had on men and male culture, living post-GFC and recent American socio-economic fall-outs. More so than unemployment, a threat and reality to which we can all relate, The Full Monty articulates universal themes of manhood, emasculation, family breakdown, materialism and gender relationships that will always shape our lives. 'Hats off' to The Full Monty creative team for turning the table and creating such a contemporary spin; and to the cast who delivered American authenticity in a comical way that stayed true to the original Sheffield story.
Unemployment inspired factory worker Jerry Lukowski (Scott MacKenzie) to bond with a group of mates and form a male-strip review. 'Inspire' is perhaps a little generous: it is more about financial desperation and male 'one-upmanship' as their income and 'provider' status is suddenly lost and they compare themselves to gay male strippers who still seem to be desired by women and are seen as 'manly'. The Full Monty explores manhood, posing and answering its many dimensions and presenting real-life circumstances to which real men can relate. Just like in real life, trauma and pragmatism brings this group of men together and through this bond, they each learn how to function as men and to recover sexual identity and self-esteem when life has left them battered and bruised.
The male characters, Jerry, Dave, 'Horse', Malcolm, Ethan and Harold all present different perspectives on 'what it means to be a man'. It is so refreshing to see a show that has been written totally from a male perspective and one that offers both male diversity and gender solidarity. The Full Monty is a rich, honest and modern tapestry of the male psyche and is essential viewing for men and women alike. On top of this is a trill of male bravado, an underscore of tragedy and conflicted emotions and a mid-riff of community chorus comment and celebration.
It is very clear from the male audience reaction that 'dude themes' struck raw nerves and delivered comic relief to anyone whose life has not 'gone according to plan'. That resonance was in all areas: script, physical humour, characterisation and the musical score. I am not saying that women did not appreciate it and laugh along: it is just clear that The Full Monty staged the male mind and their experience of life for all to see. Writer Terrence McNally and composer David Yazbek (music and lyrics) have absolutely nailed it.
I had the good fortune to sit next to 'Craig' who also nailed it: 'Life', he said with a smile and a giggle, 'is not what you think it is going to be and when it all goes to s***, men somehow come back to sex and sexuality. That's how we think. There's not a man alive who hasn't thought of the same idea when life takes a turn for the worst and you are down and out.'
Emasculation cannot get any more emotional than when a man is faced with losing his son. The single father experience is Jerry Lukowski's perspective which gives the lead character more isolation, heartbreak and desperation. 'Breeze off the River', is possibly the rawest emotional moment in the show as Jerry expresses his love for his son, Nathan (Alexander Glenk). This father-son relationship not only drives and changes Jerry, but it is once again a common and raw note that changes boys, to men to fathers. The audience grabbed this gripping musical moment.
Stage Art once again presents a 'real-life' musical with first class duets and ensemble harmonies. This company, crew and cast continue to set the standard in Australasian musical theatre.
Dave Bukatinsky (Giancarlo Salamanca) is Jerry's lifelong friend whose loss of power affected his sexual and physical confidence to such an extent that it impacted on his relationship and ability to communicate with his wife. Harold Nichols (Darren Mort) was affected more so economically, and fell into an assumption that it was money that pleased his wife, and descends into secrecy and shame. 'Horse' (Wem Etuknwa) who goes to great lengths to explain that 'the nickname is an expectation of endowment and is not the real man' represents the affect that aging may have on men and their sexual capacity and status. Racial diversity also highlights that while the theme of emasculation is universal, it is also specific to culture and age cycles. Ethan (Adam Perryman) and Malcolm MacGregor (Montgomery Wilson) begin to discover homosexuality, yet another style of manhood, as through the process of male support and finding their sexual confidence, they find the strength to defeat a lifetime of seclusion, secrets and subjugation. Through unlikely yet timely male bonding this group of working class men show one another understated empathy, non-judgement, honest truth and together, summon the courage to 'just get on with the job'.
It is fascinating to ponder the Director Notes on women's roles. Drew Downing writes: 'the wonderful flipside of The Full Monty is the underplayed strength and leadership of the women in their lives. These roles have been crafted to voice reason and truth.' Female roles set a contrast between women's view the world and how men function when their back is against the wall. I once again offer my congratulations to writers as they hold a telescope for us to consider gender balance and offer insight to how men and women can best support each other by appreciating key differences. The Full Monty is light-hearted and dynamic entertainment that exposes a vulnerable social underbelly.
Musically, The Full Monty is strong and engaging because each main character is framed in a musical spotlight to tell their own story. Lead vocals from Scott MacKenzie and Giancarlo Salamanca carry the production, but true to Stage Art-style are the show's compelling and sophisticated musical arrangements. Even though the group harmonies are superb, for my money, it is the show's duets that are the real show-stoppers: 'Man' (Jerry and Dave), 'You Walk with Me' (Malcolm and Ethan) and 'You Rule my World' (Georgie and Vicki) stay with you well after curtain close.
Stage Art is an independent theatre company in Melbourne that specialises in producing international-quality musicals and gives home-grown talent an opportunity to shine. Nathan Firman, the musical director of The Full Monty, has presented a show that singles out individual talent and harmonises tight ensembles. The live band, which was on-stage for much of the time, added to the 'maleness' of The Full Monty. Other impressive aspects of Firman's musical direction is the sustained dynamism and musical sequencing: the show has a great energy that never flails and you never lose sight of the fact that it is a comedy.
Scott MacKenzie plays Jerry, who is inspired to form a male strip troupe just to ensure that he can afford child support and maintain his rights as a father.
The Full Monty is brilliantly supported by lighting design (Maddy Seach) which helps to focus on personal stories and comedic highlights. Rhys Velasquez, the show's dance choreographer, has done an outstanding job to not only deliver 'numbers' that work, but also to create 'physical comedy' from characters who can't dance. Dance sequences and settings are hilarious.
I am often drawn to mention actors or characters who create contrast or who drive the story in a surprising way. True to that criteria, mention should be made of Jeanette Burmeister (Barbara Hughes): the audience too, showed their appreciation for her outstanding contribution.
Art Meets Real Life
The two most recent productions from Stage Art, The Colour Purple and The Full Monty, have focussed on socio-economic themes that impact on real lives, families, communities and even generations. I am delighted to see that Stage Art have once again handled complexity truthfully, skilfully and successfully converted real-life themes to the musical-theatre genre. The Fully Monty goes a step further: through this production, Stage Art are raising funds for Learning for Life Autism Centre, an organisation committing to providing the highest standard of Autism Spectrum Disorder-based services to help children with autism reach their full potential regardless of their financial circumstances. As part of this commitment, celebrities, artists and performers Andrew Doyle, Lehmo, James Elmer, Rob Mills, Brodie Holland and Mike Snell make cameo appearances throughout the Melbourne season.
There is so much to love about The Full Monty: it's a winner.