What do you do when times get tough?
Strip down to the essentials.
The Full Monty is, of course, slang for literally "baring it all." But it's the metaphorical meaning of the title that director Jeremy Stevens wants to explore when American Theater Company (ATC) presents the Oklahoma premiere of the Broadway musical this weekend at the PAC.
The Drama Desk Award-winning show, which writer Terrence McNally and composer David Yazbek adapted from the runaway hit 1997 British film, tells the story of six steel workers from Buffalo who face desperate times when their mill shuts down.
Referring to themselves as "scrap," the men begin to question themselves and their lives after much that gave them their identity has been taken away.
"Everyone who sees this show will be able to either empathize with a character or know someone who is going through this exact process," Stevens said. "This show is really about the ability of 'real men' (in other words, everyone) to overcome adversity and desperation."
One of the men's wives, enjoying her newfound independence as the sole breadwinner, celebrates by attending a Chippendale show with her friends. Her husband Dave and his friend Jerry eavesdrop from the strip club's bathroom, amazed that the women would pay for such a performance.
Looking for some way, any way, to pay his child support, Jerry decides to organize a striptease act of his own, with an added bonus for extra bucks: he'll one-up the Chippendale dancers and go "the full monty" at the end.
He recruits five fellow unemployed mill workers to join him, and what follows as they overcome their many insecurities and work up to their performance is equal parts pathos and hilarity.
"It shows that through determination, anyone can raise their self-expectations and rise above their circumstances to become a better version of themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin...so to speak," Stevens said.
The Full Monty features a cast of Tulsa theater all-stars, including Mike Pryor as Jerry, Kris Farnsworth as Dave, and Andy Axewell as Reg.
Jazz and cabaret singer Janet Rutland, who has played Patsy in several ATC productions of Always...Patsy Cline, appears as Jeanette Burmeister, a no-nonsense showbiz veteran who becomes the act's accompanist and the voice of tough-love encouragement.
"This cast is tremendous in its ability to represent several different types of 'real men' and their style," said Stevens, who also serves as the show's musical director and conductor. "I can focus on the details that are usually missed in a large-scale production of this size and let them figure out specific characterizations they feel comfortable doing. That way it becomes a true collaborative effort."
Professionalism notwithstanding, is the Bible Belt really ready for a musical about male strippers?
"I did worry at the beginning of this process that going The Full Monty would be too shocking for Tulsa," Stevens said. "But as I began to do research, I realized that I was looking at it the wrong way. We weren't going to 'shock' Tulsa. We were merely going to tell a familiar story in a different way.
"Seeing it from this perspective allowed me the opportunity to make this show real and relevant to Tulsa while still keeping the original intent intact.
"I feel that the story of desperation holds its weight beyond time," he continued. "I look at the economy and the declining jobs, especially in the middle and working class, and can see a direct parallel to the emotional and physical story being told.
"Many people across the country can relate to those feelings, and thus to this show."
Asked just what the audience will see at the show's climax, Stevens replied, "Well, I can't give away any secrets, but the audience will be surprised -- and they will love it."
The Full Monty is the opening presentation of ATC's 42nd season. In promoting the event, the company is taking a "think outside the box" page from Jerry and Dave and offering audiences some creative ways to see the show.
On the morning of one of the performances, $10 tickets will be announced via the ATC Twitter feed. At another performance, the price of a ticket will be equal to the price of a gallon of gas. There will even be a 30 percent discount on "Ladies Night Out at Monty." Details about these promotions can be found at americantheatercompany.org.
The Full Monty will play Oct. 21-29 in the Williams Theater at the PAC (918-596-7111 or myticketoffice.com). Curtain time is 8pm with the Sunday matinees at 2pm. Ticket prices range from $24 to $30. Group discounts are also available.
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