It’s called The Full Monty for a reason.
Palace Theatre artistic director Carl Rajotte says the play is like a “guilty pleasure sort of thing,” but there’s depth behind its girls’ night out reputation.
“Yes, it definitely can be a girls’ night out, but it’s really about the men. Every guy who’s going to come in is going to understand what that guy is going through onstage and relate,” Rajotte said in a recent interview between rehearsals, during which time the six lead characters were trying on their police uniforms (i.e., Chippendale-like outfits) for the first time.
There had been a bit of debate over what to open the Palace’s centennial season with.
“We had other things in mind, like 42nd Street, or other big shows that might go more with the red carpet night we’re trying to do, but no, we decided we’d have a good time,” Rajotte said. “This is our third time doing it. The past two times — in 2007 and 2011 — we found it became a great, buzz-worthy thing in town. Everybody in the town talked about how much of a party it was. So we thought, what better way to start out the centennial celebration?”
Originally a British comedy-drama film, The Full Monty musical (book by Terrence McNally and score by David Yazbek) came to Broadway in 2000. It follows six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers low on cash and morale. After seeing their wives’ enthusiasm for Chippendale’s dancers, these six men — jealous and feeling emasculated — take matters into their own hands and develop a plan to win back their wives and earn some quick cash. They create their own striptease show.
As doubts and insecurities creep in — is this really the best way to make money, they wonder? — they up the stakes instead of backing out and declare their show will be better than Chippendale’s because they’ll go “the full monty.”
If you’ve seen The Palace perform The Full Monty, it won’t be repetitive to see it again, Rajotte said.
“Every time we repeat a show, I never do it the same. I’m an artist, and I like to shake it up a bit. I think our production value increases every time we repeat a show. Now I can do more with our stage, sets, costumes, lighting. I’m getting older, and I see that I’m coming from a different point of view,” Rajotte said. “I’m finding these moments of tenderness. … These guys are willing to take their clothes off, but the underlying thing is that they’re providing for their families. Not everybody has that in them, that they’ll throw out all insecurities for that.”
It might seem as though it would be difficult to get actors willing to bare it all to hundreds of audience members each night for a month, but at least two of the cast members aren’t worried about that part of it — they’re in it for the bigger picture.
“Everybody sees the poster and they immediately have a reaction to it,” said Preston Ellis, a New Orleans native who plays Jerry Lukowski. This marks Ellis’s third time performing in The Full Monty. He loves the music, which he says has a “country, bluegrass-type feel,” and he loves the relatability of the play.
“You see a bunch of legs and you immediately think, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be about a bunch of naked dudes.’ … But I think the show is really successful because it has that real human emotion. … It feels heartfelt, it feels real, and it’s easy for you to identify with.”
Brendan Malafronte, who plays Malcolm, said in the interview he’s always wanted to play this role. Malcolm is suicidal, depressed, socially awkward and spends his days caring for his sick mother. At the same time, he’s funny.
“Picture a guy who doesn’t have a lot of friends, and then, all of a sudden, he’s 30 and gets friends. But he doesn’t know how to act in front of them,” said the Long Island native (who, like Ellis, currently lives in New York).“It’s a very funny role that has very heavy moments … I love characters that can make you laugh or cry. Normally it’s just one or the other.”
It can be a tough role to pull off, he said.
“Hopefully, if you do it right, walls are broken down, people lose their guard, and they become emotionally connected to the theater. It’s hard, but it’s the reason why we do this,” Malafronte said.
But, for the real question: is it scary being naked onstage?
It certainly helps, they say, knowing you’re not alone and vulnerable onstage. Some, like Malafronte, won’t be sure how they feel about it till showtime.
“I don’t know yet! I’ve never been naked onstage,” Malafronte said. “I love the theater so much, and I love this role, so I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’m super excited to be here, and I think that part will come later, when we do dress rehearsals and things like that.”
As seen in the September 18, 2014 issue of the Hippo.