How do you make a play, adapted from a hit movie, about a group of guys who decide to become strippers, palatable to a community theater audience? If you’re Megan McQueen and are faced with bringing The Full Monty to the Las Cruces Community Theater stage, you pull out all the stops and concentrate less on the titillation factor and more on the heart of the production. Something of which, she believes, there is plenty.
“The story is incredibly moving, in addition to being bawdy,” she said. “There is some really touching and authentic storytelling in the show. You’re ultimately asking six men to get naked and bare themselves on stage in what we all know is the highlight of the show – it’s the first thing that everybody asks about – so the temptation is to be silly and goofy, but actually what makes the show so appealing is that it’s real. It’s got a lot of heart, though I admit it may not be for everybody.”
Eric Brekke, who takes on the role of Jerry in the play, agrees with McQueen’s assessment.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It has a lot of heart. Even though it has a lot of singing and dancing, it has moments that feel so real and honest. It’s about a group of guys who are really down on their luck, who are willing to do something drastic to save what little bit of dignity they have left from their former lives. At least one out of three people has experienced a period in their lives where absolutely everything goes wrong. When that happens, you have people relying on you to figure something out and you find yourself exploring directions you would never have considered before. Who can’t relate to that?”
Overcoming the obvious hurdle – finding six men who would be willing to bare more than their soul for the audience – was actually easier than the logistics of the production, McQueen admits. To begin with, though there have been several examples of successful Broadway musicals adapted from big screen entertainment, they are often so broad it becomes difficult to pull them down to a point that they will fit within the constraints of a stage.
“When they asked me to do it I thought it sounded like a challenge, because there are 20 something locations, there are 30 set changes, it’s just not the kind of thing you should try to do with community theater,” she said. “You know me. I love a challenge. It sounded like fun to take something that probably shouldn’t be done in such a small space and make it work.”
To do so, she called upon the expertise of others she has worked with in the past. Among them were Sam Tyson, whose inspired lighting effects on Scaffolding Theater Company’s debut performance of “Nine” were a highlight of the production; Doug Robey, whose set designs have created atmosphere for many of LCCT’s most successful shows; and local legend Bob Diven, who was given the challenge of making the set changes realistic, yet simple.
“With The Full Monty, one of the complications is the story has to be realistic,” McQueen said. “The thing that makes it good is that these are real people in a real circumstance, it’s not a farce. So, even though you have to do 25 locations, you can’t do it in a cartoony or super stylized way, there has to be something that makes it seem realistic. That’s one of the things that has been interesting in working closely with Bob and Sam. We have to be creative, but we have to have a certain type of aesthetic in mind for a specific effect. This show, in a lot of ways, has been the most challenging I’ve ever done in that respect.”
Brekke, himself, was also faced with a challenge. Though he has become a recognizable face in the local theater scene and regularly receives kudos for his intense portrayals, offset by subtle character quirks, the Full Monty marks his musical debut in a semi-professional production. The challenge, however, wasn’t in lending is voice to the musical, so much as it was fitting that voice to the vocal range of the character.
“I had to do a lot of advance preparation because of the ranges I’m having to sing,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a bunch of men, but apparently they want a bunch of men who can sing like women, because it’s way up there.”
His first order of business was to get a vocal coach to help him expand his range, which, according to McQueen, has paid off magnificently.
“He’s never done a musical before, but he gained all of that range that he needed,” she said. “He worked so hard with his voice teacher that his range has completely expanded in the short period of time he had. Before we even got started he did a ton of work and that will be very evident in his performance. He’s a hard working guy.”
Adding to the fun is choreographer Karlos Saucedo, who also worked his magic in “Nine,” as well as the last two incarnations of McQueen’s annual Divas show; Ginny May on piano, as well as taking on one of the speaking roles in the play; Danny Wade on percussion; and a cast of 17 who go above and beyond to create the atmosphere necessary to make the show believable.
“They’re a great, flexible ensemble who are willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means throwing on a wig and a mumu to play senior citizens,” McQueen said. “They really take it and run with it, too. There is some exceptional character work going on in what could easily be throwaway parts. I’m really proud of them for that.”
Even so, she understands that the greatest challenge of all may be in finding the right audience for the play.
“I can’t really stress enough that this play is rated R,” she said. “There is full nudity and quite a bit of language and they talk about sex. It’s definitely an adult show, but at the same time, if people use discretion in bringing their teens to see it, they’ll probably be pretty comfortable with them being there. It’s a well-intended show. It’s not gratuitous, but people should use their discretion. It’s sweet and funny and inappropriate at times. Just like life.”
The Full Monty runs at 8 p.m. Fridays, August 15, 22 and 29 and Saturdays, Aug. 16, 23 and 30; as well as 2 p.m. Sundays, August 17, 24 and 31. Tickets are $14 for adults, $13 for students, senior citizens and active-duty military; and $11 for children under age seven. They can be purchased online at http://lcctnm.org or at the door before each performance. No telephone reservations will be accepted. Las Cruces Community Theater is located at 331 N. Main St. For more information, call 523-1200.
This preview actually ran pretty much word for word in the August 8, 2014 issue of the Las Cruces Bulletin, in large part because Arts Editor Zak Hansen allowed it without censorship and despite space constraints, which makes him an editorial anomaly and godlike in my humble opinion. All rights reserved.