Nude boys on Broadway

The musical is twice as expensive as the movie, and the cast has been relocated to Buffalo. Can "The Full Monty" still shake its stuff onstage?

Topics: Theater,

Nude boys on Broadway

“The Full Monty” is coming to Broadway. The surprise 1997 hit about a sextet of unemployed English steelworkers who trade their clothes for cash, will reemerge on Oct. 26 as a full-blown musical comedy.

Judging by the enthusiastic applause that greeted the out-of-town preview, which closed Sunday at San Diego’s Old Globe Playhouse, “Monty” appears on track to conquer Manhattan. The New York Times’ Bruce Weber, after making the trek to the other coast, declared it “a crowd-pleaser.” And Broadway.com columnist Ken Mandelbaum predicts, “‘Monty’ will be arriving in New York with the look of a hit, and could just be unstoppable, no matter what anyone writes about it in October.”

If the prognosticators are correct, “Monty’s” newest incarnation will add another chapter to an ongoing Cinderella story. The first installment began when the movie was unveiled at the ’97 Sundance Film Festival. The little $3.5 million project, funded by 20th Century Fox’s Searchlight Pictures, took audiences by surprise and stunned the industry, raking in $46 million at the box office in this country and a whopping $198 million abroad. “Monty” would go on to garner four Academy Award nominations — including one for best picture — and nab an Oscar for Anne Dudley’s comedy score. No sooner had the movie opened, reports Lindsay Law, then president of Searchlight, than “we got an extraordinary number of requests, probably 45-60 of them, from theatrical producers around the world wanting to turn it into a stage show. That turned my head to looking at it as a full-fledged musical, and we began exploring the idea.”



Hit movies don’t necessarily make boffo Broadway, though — a painful lesson that Fox itself learned when a thudding “musicalization” of its hit 1988 Tom Hanks comedy, “Big,” opened in ’96 and promptly disappeared after only 22 previews and 192 performances. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s ’94 version of “Sunset Boulevard” lasted just two and a half years — a minor run for the “Cats” man. “Footloose,” a wan, carbon-copy version of the ’84 Kevin Bacon flick, just closed after 737 performances — though audiences nationwide won’t be spared an upcoming national tour. An equally panned stage mounting of “Saturday Night Fever,” which opened last year at Broadway’s Minskoff Theater, continues to hold its own, but John Travolta needn’t worry that it will ever crowd out memories of the ’77 classic on which it’s based.

“There’s nothing new in Broadway musicals adapting featherweight entertainment,” observes Jack Verteil, creative director of Jujamcyn Theaters, which has booked “The Full Monty” for its Eugene O’Neill Theater. “Back in the ’50s, shows like ‘Damn Yankees’ or ‘The Pajama Game’ were based on light novels. Today, those light novels are more likely to be TV shows or movies. Certainly, when you’re working with a popular title like ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ it makes it easier to raise financing and book tours, often sight unseen. But it may also work negatively. ‘Footloose’ and ‘Saturday Night’ seem so recent that audiences can always go out and rent the video. They don’t necessarily have to spend $80 to see them on Broadway.”

Still, Broadway producers, eager to transfer a marquee brand name from the cineplex to the Great White Way, continue to force movie adaptations onto the stage: “The Witches of Eastwick,” which began life as a 1984 John Updike novel before morphing into the problematic ’87 Jack Nicholson feature, is currently having its kinks worked out in London. Marvin Hamlisch, composer of “A Chorus Line,” is working on a stage version of the ’57 classic “Sweet Smell of Success” — John Lithgow will appear as fearsome gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker in a workshop this fall — and then plans to join forces with Woody Allen for a musicalization of “Bullets Over Broadway.” Even a relative trifle like the 1967 flapper comedy “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is being brought to the stage.

But before those other projects move forward, perhaps they should take a few cues from Law, who has made a number of shrewd moves to ensure that the new “Monty” lives up to the original. First, he has refused to take in any producing partners — a rarity these days, when most Broadway shows are top heavy with corporate investors.

“Normally, when a studio licenses a show to a Broadway producer, it loses control. But we didn’t want to do anything that would damage the film’s name,” says Law. And so he took the lead in developing the show himself — leaving Searchlight in January to work on it full time — and Fox agreed to shoulder the costs, which are expected to reach $7 million, twice the movie’s budget, by the time the show reaches Manhattan.

Second, Law forswore the easy “Saturday Night Fever” route of merely replicating the original’s songs in the stage version. “Simply duplicating the movie didn’t seem a very exciting choice,” he says. “That just exploits the title, but to what end? You really need to give audiences something new and different or I don’t think the stage version can be assured a long life of its own.” With theater vets such as director Jack O’Brien (artistic director at the Old Globe, where he first mounted the ’94 Broadway revival of “Damn Yankees”) and playwright Terrence McNally (who wrote the adaptations for “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime”) on board, the decision was made to transfer the lads in “The Full Monty” from unemployment lines in Sheffield, England, to Buffalo, N.Y.

But Law’s riskiest decision was signing first-time Broadway composer David Yazbeck (whose previous credits range from “Late Night With David Letterman” to “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?”) to handle words and lyrics. “I remembered back to when I was in college and first saw [1968's] ‘Promises, Promises,’ with its music and lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David,” explains Law. “That was a new sound then, terrific and contemporary. It wasn’t ‘Climb Every Mountain.’ A lot of people recommended David. He writes in quirky, different styles. He did a couple of songs on spec — and that was it.”

After too many years of stentorian sung-through musicals — from “Les Miz” to “Jekyll & Hyde” — Yazbeck’s clever tunes are refreshingly unpretentious. (He even works casually dropped four-letter words into the lyrics.) The first-act curtain number “Michael Jordan’s Ball” allows the struggling lads to discover their inner stripper as they mimic the basketball ace’s moves on the court; the second act opens with a classic Broadway showstopper, “Jeanette’s Blues,” as veteran character actress Kathleen Freeman (who has racked up supporting parts in 124 features and 60 TV shows), playing the boys’ piano player, belts out a lament for the bum showbiz acts she has seen in her time. Yazbeck’s score even includes a mock love song a man sings to his oversize stomach.

With just a few exceptions — like Andrew De Shields of “The Wiz” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” — the “Monty” cast is made up of relative unknowns. But that hardly matters. The show’s title is its star, and once a few needed nips and tucks are performed before the show takes the bow in New York, “Monty” should deliver the goods.

And exactly how full is this “Monty”? The stage cast goes further than their movie counterparts, revealing all in a final, full-frontal flash — though, to be fair, some tricky stagecraft obscures the view. Even so, that certainly rates as one gimmick no movie-to-stage adaptation has yet attempted.

If nothing else, the new “Full Monty” may go down in history as the first musical in which the players deliberately lost their shirts.

Gregg Kilday, a writer in Los Angeles, writes regularly about the movie business.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>