Playwright: Terrence McNally ( book ),
David Yazbek ( music and lyrics ). At: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 721 N. Howard St., Evanston. Tickets: $39-44 ( optional dinner $25 ); theo-u.com . Runs through: Jan. 27
There's something off about Theo Ubique's The Full Monty.
By all accounts, the first production in the cabaret theater's new and expanded space in Evanston should hit all the right notes. The musicaladapted from the cult British comedy by award-winning writers Terrence McNally and David Yazbekfeatures a memorable, snarky score and laugh-out-loud dialogue. With the exception of a miscast lead, the principal actors work hard and are adept at song, comedy and stripping. And Theo Ubique's Fred Anzevino and Jeremy Ramey are a director-music director dream team, having established the company as a treasure trove of intimately staged theater.
So what's wrong with this Full Monty? Basically, it lacks heart.
That's a huge problem, because the story is chock full of emotion: Unemployed steel workers in Buffalo, New York, decide to support themselves and their families by staging a one-night-only strip show. And of course, they all have personal stakes: Jerry ( Matt Frye ) owes child support for his beloved tween son Nathan ( Sean Zielinski ). Overweight Dave ( Nick Druzbanski ) longs to contribute to the household his wife Georgie ( Molly LeCaptain ) is keeping afloat. And closeted Malcolm ( Joe Giovannetti ) just wants friends that aren't his elderly mother.
Can six men raise $50,000 in one night, using only their imperfect bodies? The Full Monty is a classic underdog story, only with G-strings and dirty dancing. Fun and surprisingly touching, right?
Chicago's Kokandy Productions staged a glorious Full Monty in 2015, striking just the right balance of raunch and soul. Perhaps its company is a better fit for a show that uses profanity from the first lyric, ends with a strip show and is full of sex jokes than Theo Ubique, which offers dinner service and whose clientele tends to skew older.
It doesn't help that Anzevino and Ramey appear to still be adjusting to the spacing and acoustics of the new space, resulting in clumsy staging and vocals out of sync with the orchestra. Also, James Kolditz's lighting design is ambitious and sometimes innovative, but more often than sacrifices the visibility of the actors' faces. Sawyer Smith's choreography is well-suited for the stripper sequencesespecially that of John Cardone's professional hustler Kenobut is otherwise strangely tentative.
Despite less-than-ideal guidance, a few performances stand out. Giovannetti's Malcolm is heartbreakingly vulnerable, and the actor has an angel's voice. His camaraderie with Neil Stratman's sweetly dopey Ethan, who just wants to dance like Donald O'Connor, is the production's true highlight. Jonathan Schwart is nebbishly hilarious as in-debt former supervisor Harold, and Marc Prince showcases impressive moves and soaring vocals as Horse, who wants to be seen as more than a fantastical "big Black man." Although LeCaptain sings beautifully as always, she appears about 10 years too young to play blue-collar Georgie, and Frye's Jerry carries none of the charm of Patrick Wilson, who debuted the role on Broadway. Although Jerry is rough around the edges and often misguided, Frye and Anzevino make the character so aggressive and antagonistic, it's borderline impossible to root for himeven when he begins to change.
Theo Ubique's Full Monty had all the ingredients to be great. Instead, it's merely … fine. Panning a show can be difficult when it's obvious the actors are trying their hardest and the company just wants the production to work. Perhaps Theo Ubique's upcoming Bridges of Madison County will be more successful. Just like in strippingwhen a dancer can have all the moves and sequins, but none of it counts if they're dead behind the eyesvery underdog story must have hope.