The Full Monty’: Story of underdog strippers shows what’s under their skin

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For men who desperately seek jobs and for the family members who love them, The Full Monty offers inspiring but amusing lessons about pluck amid hard luck.

Two Otterbein University departments, those of Music and of Theater and Dance, will end the season with the musical, opening tonight in Cowan Hall.

Composer-lyricist David Yazbek and author Terrence McNally adapted the two-act show from the 1997 film about unemployed steelworkers who decide to become male strippers to make some much-needed money.

“The spirit of the musical is that you can do anything if you believe in yourself,” director David Caldwell said.

The musical, which ran from 2000 to 2002 in New York, still resonates as millions of Americans struggle to find jobs, Caldwell said.

“These guys rally together to take control of their own destiny,” he said. “Instead of being frightened by the situation, they discover that the women in their lives and their town are supportive.”

Caldwell has wanted to direct the show since he saw the Broadway production, which was nominated for 10 Tony awards in 2001.

“I loved the story and the jazz- and rock-fueled score, but I was very surprised at how much the audience was pumped up,” Caldwell said. “Maybe it’s because the show is about a lot of underdogs.”

At the center of the drama is Jerry Lukowski (Connor Allston), an unemployed millworker in Buffalo, N.Y., who gets the desperate idea to recruit other guys to train for a Chippendales-style show.

“He’s kind of a hothead but also is a charmer,” Allston said. “Jerry has this idea and wants to make money to see his son Nathan, but his plans aren’t working out.”

Allston, a 19-year-old freshman, is tackling his first leading role at Otterbein.

One challenge of bringing the musical to convincing life is that, although the actors are experienced performers, the men they play aren’t.

“When Jerry is starting out, he doesn’t have any dance ability,” Allston said. “He and the other guys work really hard to remember all of their steps.”

Choreographer Stella Hiatt Kane, director of dance in the Theater and Dance Department, faced the challenge of helping Otterbein’s student performers fill their roles without seeming so well-trained.

“Some of the actors are actually pretty good dancers,” Kane said, “but they want to approach it like they’re real guys — not performers stepping right out of a dance studio.”

Thus, her choreography frames the characters’ rehearsals more as a variant of male athleticism.

For example, in the song Michael Jordan’s Ball, the unemployed men view their dance training as if they’re doing basketball warm-up exercises.

“It has a more pedestrian feel because they’re moving more like real people,” Kane said.

Michael Jordan’s Ball, the first-act finale, is a turning point.

“That’s when the men make a commitment and say, ‘We can do this, if it’s just like basketball,’  ” Kane said. “And just like the Chippendales, they can learn to go out on that one night and strip for the ladies.”

The show, which Otterbein suggests for high-school age and older, is family-oriented and heartwarming, Caldwell said — despite flashes of partial nudity.

“We do have the ‘full monty’ at the end, but it’s very masked in the shadows,” he said.

“It’s completely backlit, so nothing can be seen. . . . The energy from the guys, knowing that they’re doing the ‘full monty,’ is what pumps up the audience.”

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