Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Monty" a flying circus at Asbury Carousel

August 19, 2009

Theater folk do love to tell stories of their experiences on the live frontlines of show business — so stop us if you've heard the one about the much-ballyhooed musical revival presented inside an old boardwalk carousel roundhouse.

It seems that just prior to the opening night performance, a beach security vehicle with a stuck throttle rammed into the building, reportedly causing a delayed reaction that resulted in the power going out during a big showstopper number just minutes before intermission — a number completed with the help of flashlights, and followed by an unplanned 45-minute break in which the audience enjoyed lemonade and cool ocean breezes (while frantic crews entertained alternatives like science-project batteries made from lemonade-stand lemons).
Ouch. Too soon? Well, the people of Asbury Park's professional ReVision Theater Company needn't apologize, since they managed against some pretty long odds to wrest a successful opening of "The Full Monty" from the jaws of what looked to be certain disaster — as nifty a recovery as anything we've seen, and accomplished largely through the beyond-Monty efforts of a game cast (with all due credit to a patient and supportive audience).
Although it hasn't quite trickled down to the middle-school or church-basement circuits just yet, the Americanized stage adaptation (by Terrence McNally and composer David Yazbek) of the hit British film has been seen on enough community stages to dampen whatever residual shock value remains from a musical about amateur male strippers. It also helps tremendously that the authors have humanized their characters — a set of unemployed factory workers, divorced dads, and lost souls living in a beaten-down Buffalo — in a way that puts the show's gimmicky central conceit into perfect perspective. While the script doesn't run nearly as deep as other McNally efforts, these guys are a pack of underdogs that you can root for from the start.

Between scoring some pertinent points on the psychological effects of joblessness and despair, "Monty" is essentially a fun party — and director David Leidholdt has played up some of the party-atmosphere flourishes in a way that compensates for the generally low-budget look and rough aspects of the unorthodox (but still engagingly funky) venue at the south end of the boardwalk.

While Scott Guthrie and Adam Kern do a fine job anchoring the cast as broke brainstormer Jerry and his "fat bastard" buddy Dave, the show doesn't really spark to life until the "Hot Metal" dance troupe begins to come together toward the end of the first act (unfortunately, right about the time the lights went out on Aug. 14). The audition-scene intros of painfully bad dancer Ethan (Jonathan Gregg) and, especially, the "Big Black Man" known as Horse (Mark Weekes) are comic highlights that are very nearly eclipsed by the presence of Broadway veteran Jane Strauss, as the dance troupe's chain-smoking, wizened old crow of an accompanist (love those hopelessly dated references to Arthur Godfrey and Buddy Greco).

Apart from that surefire crowdpleaser of a role, the capable female performers in the cast (including such returning ReVisioners as Katherine Pecevich and Deidra Grace) necessarily cede the spotlight to the starring sextet of stripping pals rounded out by humiliated former boss Harold (Mark Gerrard) and suicidal lonely guy Malcolm (Andy R. Jobe). Still, one could make the case that the women literally saved the show on that weird opening night, by whooping up the energy level from the audience in the climactic (and briefly full-frontal) "Let It Go" production number.

Struggling to make ends meet in a harsh economic climate; striving valiantly to mount a slick show in what can be called a "quirky" space, the ReVision producers have every right to identify with their underdog protagonists here. While it's ultimately not going to be the sort of legacy-making choice that last spring's "Kingdom" was, their "Monty" is a fun summer show in a dress-down setting (air conditioned exclusively by nature), best enjoyed in that spirit — or with whatever spirits you can take in beforehand.

Continuing through Sept. 6, "The Full Monty" presents performances at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets, $35-$50, can be reserved by calling 732-455-3059 or visiting www.ReVisionTheatre.org.

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