Review: Lively ‘Full Monty’ wears its age well in San Diego Musical Theatre production


“The Full Monty” has deep roots in San Diego. It was born at The Old Globe in 2000, and it was the first musical ever produced by San Diego Musical Theatre in May 2007.

On Saturday, SDMT returned to its roots with a new production of the male stripper-themed comedy at its new artistic home, the Horton Grand Theatre. “Full Monty” has worn its age well with endearing characters, catchy songs and hilarious lyrics and it fits well in the 240-seat space.

“The Full Monty” was based on a 1997 film about six laid-off steelworkers in Northern England who turn to nude stripping out of desperation. Musical book-writer Terrence McNally and composer David Yazbek duplicated the plot but re-set it in Buffalo, N.Y.

Directed by Liverpool-born Neil Dale, the new SDMT production honors the musical writers’ intentions as well as their English source material, but it also modernizes some elements.

At the Old Globe, the lead character — debt-laden, trouble-making single dad Jerry Lukowski — was played by the matinee idol-handsome Patrick Wilson. Dale’s production stars Steven Freitas, a smaller, scruffier, more even match with the film’s scrappy star Robert Carlyle. Freitas had some vocal issues on opening night but he’s entirely believable in the role.

Dale also has opened the door a bit wider for the character of Malcolm, a suicidal and closeted gay ex-steelworker. In the hands of Jonathan Sangster, a strong singer and actor, Malcolm is more open with his emotions and his affections, in keeping with today’s times.

The heart of the production are Danny Stiles and Joy Yandell, who play Jerry’s overweight and unemployed best friend Dave and his loving but neglected wife, Georgie. They’re charismatic actors with strong voices and a tender connection so honest they’ll bring tears to your eyes with the duet “You Rule My World.”

Other standouts are the singularly named Devlin as Jeanette, the gruff, chain-smoking and eccentric rehearsal pianist, and Ron Christopher Jones as the aging troupe member “Horse,” who dances and sings with surprisingly youthful vigor in one of the show’s best numbers “Big Black Man.”

Richard Van Slyke and Jack Eld complete the sextet of out-of-work strippers Harold and Ethan, respectively. Karyn Overstreet amuses as Harold’s adoring wife, Vicky. Amy Perkins plays Jerry’s ex-wife Pam. Owen Schmutz plays their precocious pre-teen son, Nathan. Scott Arnold plays pro stripper Keno Walsh. The rest of the ensemble includes Beth Alison, Luke Harvey Jacobs, Sydney Joyner, Stella Kim, Shayne Mims, Paul Morgavo and Alex Nemiroski.

Back in 2007, musical director Don LeMaster conducted the show’s 13-piece pit orchestra at the Birch North Park Theatre. The Horton Grand has no pit, but LeMaster is back with another 13-piece orchestra who perform flawlessly in a hidden offstage room.

Paul David Bryant’s choreography, especially the basketball-inspired moves in “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” is faithful to the original. Janet Pitcher designed the costumes and Kevin Anthenill created sound. Michelle Miles designed the lighting, which is known for artfully exposing the dancers in their nude (or “full monty”) finale with a PG-rated trick of the eye.

“Full Monty” arrives on the heels of the 2018 Women’s March, and the musical certainly celebrates women in leadership roles (“It’s a Woman’s World”). Some script references about women’s interests and home responsibilities sound dated by today’s standards but they’re in keeping with the story’s 1990s setting.

With “The Full Monty,” SDMT has settled into its new permanent home, where it will produce smaller-scale productions in longer runs. The season will continue with “South Pacific” opening April 27, “Hairspray” opening Aug. 3 and “Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein” opening Sept. 28.

“The Full Monty”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 25.

Where: San Diego Musical Theatre at the Horton Grand, 444 Fourth Ave., downtown.

Tickets: $30-$70 (discounts available).

Phone: (858) 560-5740

Online: Twitter: @pamkragen