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Revealing all in The Full Monty 

Times are hard, so stripping in public for a cut of $50,000 isn't the worst idea in the world. But as The Full Monty shows us so powerfully, real beer-drinking lunchpail men won't buy into the idea unless some really hard work is involved -- or just to be clear, custody of a child is at stake.

In the 1997 British film, the strip line is formed by six jobless guys in Sheffield, the shambling steel city where steel factories have shut down. On the wings of Terrence McNally's fine book, the 2000 musical version transports the whole shebang (which is, incidentally, what full monty actually means) to Buffalo, New York. Music and lyrics by David Yazbek help dust off some of the seediness and grim reality. What they're doing becomes upstaged by why they're doing it.

Enough to play at Theatre Charlotte???! Hell, yeah. What's more, the current production, directed by Dennis Delamar with the able assistance of Polly Adkins, shows us that The Full Monty is ideally suited for community theater. Sure, the Broadway version I saw in 2000 had mega-talents André De Shields and Emily Skinner in the cast before they became marquee names at Charlotte Rep. But if the blokes who are busting their tails can't strut and strip like the Chippendales, does it really hurt that much if they can't sing and dance like De Shields and Skinner? At times, amateur standing might be an advantage.

We can cheer for Malcolm MacGregor, the first anti-Chippie recruit, simply because he bravely resolves to keep on breathing. And we can laugh because Jerry Lukowski and Dave Bukatinsky, who find him trying to gas himself to death, demonstrate their friendship and solidarity by pledging to help Malcolm find a better path to suicide in "Big-Ass Rock."

Malcolm is emblematic of all the guys who shed their boxers for thongs: They're all gasping for a new life. Irresponsible, ne'er-do-well Jerry wants to be a father again, and overweight Dave -- between snacks -- wants to be a bona fide husband. If that doesn't get us cheering, Delamar deploys off-duty cast members into the house to help turn the audience into rowdy, raucous worshippers of soft porn as the boys unveil their act.

Stuart Spencer, who only lacked confidence last year in Little House of Horrors, seems to have found it as vacillating, self-hating Dave. That ought to reassure stage veteran Kevin Roberge that he doesn't have to carry the show, but his steely performance as Jerry was thinly alloyed with strain on opening night. Steve Martin gave perhaps his best performance yet at the old barn as Malcolm, projecting a nicely nuanced need to bond with the guys.

The roster of others in the cast who soar over the bar of expectations for community theater must begin with Candace Neal as Georgie, Dave's loving, undersexed wife, clearly the best voice out there, with sass to match. Alan Morgan, as the uxorious former supervisor, is nicely coupled with Courtney Johnson as his expensive wife. As Jerry's son Nathan, Andrew Griner shows that he still has a few innocent kid roles left in him, and Pat Heiss conclusively demonstrates she doesn't as Jeanette, the weathered, gin-swilling crone who turns up to serve as the guys' rehearsal accompanist -- and sticks by them even though they suck.

I hear the second weekend of Monty sold out. Jump aboard the bandwagon before it's too late.

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