By Barry Reszel
It was a highly-anticipated trek to Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s swanky new digs on the Evanston-Chicago border.
That’s where Theo’s resident theatrical geniuses (Artistic Director Fred Anzevino; Assistant Director Courtney Crouse; and Music Director Jeremy Ramey) were joining choreographer extraordinaire Sawyer Smith to welcome patrons to the company’s new home and give them just what they wanted: The Full Monty.
On the heels of numerous jaw-dropping productions at Rogers Park’s No Exit Cafe, including the spawning of numerous careers destined for larger venues, opening night, for all intents and purposes, was to be an epic celebration fully deserved.
But it was not to be.
Much like moving into a new residence, the powerful anticipation of how much it will impact life for the better isn’t realized immediately. In fact, let’s just chalk up Theo’s opening night to the fact that, as most who have done it (recently or not) will attest: moving is a bitch.
Aesthetically, the new venue does not disappoint. A modern bar area, ample room for tables and chairs and a tiered auditorium-styled seating area give a more spacious feel than the old No Exit. With a room more squared than oblong, though, it will be interesting to see if sound mixing issues evident at the opening will be easily fixed without needing to have Theo’s actors become wired for sound.
What added to the sadness of unmet opening night expectations was a generally expressionless 3/4-filled house, giving the actors little energy to draw from.
The production itself, adapted by Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally with a fun musical score by David Yazbek (Tootsie, The Band’s Visit, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to name just three), is a story of male friendships forged during a time many men feel emasculated—unemployment.
The 2001 musical set in Buffalo and based on a 1997 British film of the same name focuses on six unemployed steelworkers, low on both cash and prospects, decide to present a strip act at a local club after seeing their wives’ enthusiasm for a touring company of Chippendales. In a moment of bravado, one declares that their show will be better than the Chippendales because they’ll do “the full monty”—strip all the way. As they prepare for the show, working through their fears, self-consciousness and anxieties, they overcome their inner demons and find strength in their camaraderie. A full plot summary and production history may be read here.
Anzevino’s direction is honest and empathetic, both traits sure to shine more brightly through the run. So, too, Smith’s wonderful choreography will only become more hilarious as the cast becomes more comfortable in its communal (bare) skin. Ramey’s musical direction is terrific, as are musicians in the band, though as previously noted, sound balance is going to be a work in progress.
Overall, Ben Lipinski’s corrugated-heavy scenic design fits the Buffalo setting, though at times at opening it contributed to a sense of herky-jerky storytelling. Again, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn these kinks are worked out through the course of the show’s run.
On stage, The Full Monty ensemble is still seeking that necessary chemistry for the show to truly click. Matt Frye in the lead as Jerry needs to find something more to sell his character as both dance team leader and a decent father. When his relationship with his son becomes truly convincing is when this production will be all it should be. That said, Frye has a lovely voice, and his rendition of the ballad, “Breeze Off the River,” sung to his sleeping son (played by Sean Zielinski, who truly needs to see Frye as his dad), is a musical highlight.
Nick Druzbanski as Dave, Jerry’s best friend, is a comic foil who evokes genuine sympathy and highlights the truth that body image is an issue for all. The Frye/Druzbanski chemistry is a genuine highlight that will grow stronger, as are the songs they sing together, notably “Big-Ass Rock” and “You Rule My World.”
The finest performance given opening night was by Marc Prince as Horse, the dulcet-voiced African American man who absolutely goes there in the discussion of racist expectations of sexual prowess. Every piece of his performance is perfectly nuanced.
Another striking performance comes from Joe Giovannetti as Malcolm, a suicidal closeted homosexual mama’s boy. His endearing portrayal lovely rendition of “You Walk With Me,” sung with the terrific Neil Stratman as Ethan, is among the finest musical highlights of the production.
There are better times ahead for the new Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre than opening night of The Full Monty, and it wouldn’t surprise this reviewer if they come within this production’s run. This company deserves a little patience as the furniture is rearranged and the pictures are hung on the walls. Because everyone can agree, moving is a bitch.
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents “The Full Monty” through January 27, 2019, at its new home, 721 Howard Street, Evanston. More information and tickets are available here.