Stripping is the means to the end, but “The Full Monty” has many more layers than the ones the men will shed on the Theatre Cedar Rapids stage from Jan. 25 to Feb. 10.
The musical was previously produced there in 2007.
It’s the tale of six average, everyday guys in Buffalo, N.Y., most of whom have been laid off from the steel mill — some for as long as 18 months. With dismal job prospects awaiting them, they discover that the women of the town — including their wives — will fork over big bucks to see Chippendales dancers writhe their way down to their G-strings.
Instigator is divorced dad Jerry (Dustin Davis). He’s fallen so far behind on child support that he may lose the shared custody rights to his son, Nathan (Jesse Flaherty, TCR’s Billy Elliot in 2017). Jerry sees stripping as a quick fix to his financial strife.
He convinces his best friend and several former co-workers that they can tap their talents and hit the stage, too, taking it one step further by stripping to “the full monty.” According to the Oxford Dictionary, that’s British slang for “the full amount expected, desired, or possible,” and “a striptease performance involving full nudity, especially by a man.”
So yes, the premise is titillating, the guys do strip, and the humor, dance and lyrics are bawdy. The show’s message, however, lies more than skin deep.
“It’s really about self discovery more than it is about stripping,” said director Cavan Hallman, 39, of Cedar Rapids. “There are two big ‘full monty-ish’ scenes and the rest of it is really about these people who were finding themselves in an extreme desperate situation, and they’re doing the only things they can. They’re grasping at straws to try and save their lives, save their careers, save their families, save their social fabric. And so the way they end up doing this is by making this plan to strip — but that’s the end of a longer journey.”
It’s a journey that follows a typical theatrical path, he said.
“There are two different self-discovery models that I think of in musical theater: the ‘My Fair Lady’ model where someone gets remade, and then there’s the ‘Wizard of Oz’ model where people discover that they always had whatever they’ve been looking for, the whole time,” he said. “This (show) is really the ‘Wizard of Oz’ rather than ‘My Fair Lady,’ and (by) going through this extreme situation, they realize that they had the confidence, they are who they were. It’s just about finding that confidence and about finding the strength to be who they are.”
Ultimately, it’s an illuminating journey for the actors.
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“It’s interesting playing a character who’s able to motivate all these guys to do this ludicrous thing at the beginning of the show,” said Davis, 27, of Iowa City.
Hallman inserted a page out of Davis’ playbook into the show. To keep physically pumped up for playing the narcissistic Gaston in TCR’s “Beauty and the Beast” in 2016, Davis would run around and do pushups offstage. He was doing the same thing during rehearsals for this show, so Hallman worked that into the action.
Hallman also brings a bit of personal experience to the table, having been part of a “silly” male dance crew in New Orleans, with 100 men sporting short shorts, “dad bods,” red satin jackets and the tagline “ordinary men, extraordinary moves.”
“So I had this experience and it just felt really relevant to this,” he said. “It felt really relevant to this in terms of this idea of bonding and the joy that can come from being part of this group of men.”
While Davis and other cast members have lots of experience bonding stage in other shows, Omarr Hatcher, 42, of Cedar Rapids, auditioned at the encouragement of his “Elf” cast members. This is just his second production, so he can relate to the angst the characters are feeling. A self-employed construction worker, he said he was just looking for something to do at night, never expecting to actually make the cut.
“I did some research. I started looking up the script and the music and just said, ‘Well, they might cast me.’ And they did,” he said with a laugh.
He plays Horse, the retired ironworker the younger guys feel is too old to join in the act. However, the guys decide that because he’s black, the ladies will go crazy over the stereotype cited in the song “Big Black Man.”
“I was particularly intimidated by the choreography,” Hatcher said. “That was probably my largest hang-up,” noting he can relate to his character’s sore knees and back. “But it’s happening, and it’s a beautiful process. It really is quite the addition to my life. ... My levels of anxiety have gone down tremendously.”
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The key to making a show like work is creating a safe environment, from auditions to rehearsals, and ultimately the big reveal in front of cast, crew and audiences. And trusting that the strategic lighting cues work every time. The environment is especially important when Flaherty, of Fairfax, the only young person in the cast, is just 13.
“What I’ve been thinking about really from the very beginning, because there is this element of stripping, is trying to create a safe rehearsal environment for everybody,” director Hallman said. “That applies equally to adults and minors ... because as I said to the cast, doing theater is a vulnerable experience.”
Because Flaherty, a seventh-grader at Prairie Point Middle School in Cedar Rapids, is an award-winning dancer so used to the stage and the spotlight, the rest of the cast considers him a pro. And even though his role doesn’t require dance, Hallman and choreographer Erin Helm couldn’t pass up the opportunity to design some featured dance moments for him, as well.
Marcia Hughes, 56, of Cedar Rapids, who has created such iconic TCR roles as Ursula in “The Little Mermaid” and Miss Hannigan in “Annie,” is delighted to be stepping back into the show. She played one of the wives in a production mounted at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City 10 years ago, and this time is playing the men’s crusty rehearsal pianist who “shows up out of nowhere,” Hughes said.
A retiree who’s “tired of sitting in a rocking chair,” she knows how bad they are as dancers, and sometimes employs reverse psychology to build them up, by telling them just how bad they are, Hughes said.
“It’s a lot of fun to get the chance to come back and do it again. It feels like a new work,” she said, turning to Hallman and adding, “I’m not the least bit surprised that he would approach it in his own way.”
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WHAT: “The Full Monty”
WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. CE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: Jan. 25 to Feb. 10; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $22 to $42; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org/event/the-full-monty/2019-01-25/
ADVISORY: Contains mature content, adult language and partial nudity
EXTRA: ASL interpretation Feb. 9; contact Box Office for reserved section seating