Stages’ ‘Full Monty’ evokes sly winks, sweet smiles and lots of laughter

A scene from “The Full Monty,” presented by Stages St. Louis at Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood.
A scene from “The Full Monty,” presented by Stages St. Louis at Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood. Stages St. Louis

Joyous and fun, “The Full Monty” is a musical brimming with heart, humor and the unexpected.

I haven’t laughed that much throughout a show in a very long time. The crackerjack cast, crisply directed by Michael Hamilton, elicits hearty giggles, chuckles, guffaws and gasps.

At times bawdy and specifically aimed at mature audiences, “The Full Monty” is laden with sly winks and sweet smiles. That’s not a surprise, but the warm story of friendships and family bonds is. A sold-out crowd, teeming with senior citizens, clapped along and laughed aloud on opening night, immediately rising for a standing ovation.

What made the Oscar-nominated 1997 British movie such a crowd-pleasing and critically acclaimed hit transferred to the 2000 Tony-nominated American stage version, for it has relatable characters and realistic situations during a time of economic turmoil.

The principal performers are of such high caliber that they make their characters’ strenuous demands look effortless. This finely tuned full-throttle ensemble showcases true triple threats — strongly singing David Yazbeck’s (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) clever score, delivering Terrence McNally’s quip-packed book, and energetically moving to choreographer Stephen Bourneuf’s lively dances.

McNally (“Love! Valor! Compassion!”) has moved the locale downtrodden Buffalo, N.Y., where unemployed steelworkers are bereft of hope and desperate for work that could restore their livelihood and dignity.

Divorced dad Jerry Lukowski (Brent Michael Diroma), holding out for a decent salary and behind in child support payments, concocts a get-rich-quick scheme after he sees how a Chippendales-like show packs the local nightclub with cash-wielding females. He will put on a show with fellow down-and-outers!

Of course none are very talented, but have quirky personalities and engaging personal stories. Chubby hubby Dave (Todd A. Horman) has low self-esteem but a quick wit. Jerry and Dave rescue a depressed Malcolm (Eric Keiser) while they are on a jog. Harold (James Ludwig) is a laid-off supervisor who is smooth on the dance floor. At auditions, they encounter “Horse” (Milton Craig Nealy), who can really move, and Ethan (Adam Shonkwiler), whose gift is hidden.

This motley crew works out their issues and redeems themselves in one of the best-constructed and perfectly executed finales in modern times. Of special merit is Matthew McCarthy’s exceptional lighting design.

With such musical numbers as “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” “Big-Ass Rock,” and the first “Let It Go” (no relation to “Frozen”), you can’t help but grin.

Other standouts include the ladies, led by winsome Lindsie VanWinkle as Georgie Bukatinsky, in “It’s a Woman’s World”; Nealy raising the roof with ‘Big Black Man”; St. Louis treasure Zoe Vonder Haar as the accompanist in a feisty “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number”; and dynamo Julie Cardia as Vicki Nichols in “Life With Harold.”

The supporting cast features an impressive Cole Hoefferle as Jerry’s son Nathan, and local favorites Whit Reichert (Belleville native), John Flack, Kari Ely, Laura Ernst and Steve Isom in multiple roles.

While there are a tad too many ballads in the second act, one can’t question the show’s sincerity. This rollicking good time closes out Stages’ peppy 29th season in mighty fine fashion.

The next season, just announced, promises to be stellar too, with the regional premiere of ‘It Shoulda Been You” the uplifting “Sister Act” and the return of the popular “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

At a glance

What: “The Full Monty”

Who: Stages St. Louis

When: Now through Oct. 4

Where: Robert G. Reim Theatre at Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Road, Kirkwood, Mo.

Tickets: 314-821-2407; www.stagesstlouis.org