The 1997 film The Full Monty handled its climactic male nudity with exuberant grace. This Tuesday, as the Theater League's season closer, the spirited musical adaptation drops its drawers at Kansas City's Music Hall.
In the film, idle British laborers re-create themselves as strippers and, in the process, stiffen their resolve to be better men. For this show, writer Terrence McNally and composer David Yazbek Americanize the story, relocating it from Sheffield, England, to an equally strapped Buffalo, New York. In the process, they leave much of the story's heart intact.
If McNally's double entendres sound like the sophomoric quips you'd hear in a locker room, Yazbek's multifaceted score is the saving grace. It's buoyant and funny and, at times, quite beautiful (as in "Breeze Off the River" and "You Walk With Me," sung in the original Broadway cast by Kansas City-connected Jason Danieley).
The tour's a smash hit and has been extended a year, which is a marvel to Yazbek, who hadn't exactly lived the life of an aspiring Broadway composer. "I wasn't looking for a musical," he says from New York. "I'd never written one. When it was presented to me three years after the movie, at first I thought, Jesus, they're just trying to make a buck. But within a minute, I realized it could be a musical -- and the kind of show I could write."
At the time, Yazbek was busy playing in his own band (eponymously called Yazbek), but he liked the film and felt connected to the characters. "These blue-collar guys, with all their baggage, were guys I know," he says. "These are my issues."
During its Broadway run, the show had the misfortune of being up for all of its Tony Awards against the behemoth The Producers and won none. Yazbek thinks the late Kathleen Freeman -- who played the guys' piano accompanist -- was robbed. Still, its best shot might have been for the score, which Yazbek describes as "eclectic but of a piece."
"There are elements of polyrhythmic rock, straight-ahead, sleazy cha-cha music and ballads that are almost parodies of Broadway ballads," he says. Included in the latter category is the song "Big Ass Rock" -- a song about various methods of suicide.
Yazbek admits that people can misunderstand the show, too easily summarizing it (and perhaps dismissing it) as The Show Where Guys Strip. But Yazbek sees the stripping as simply a culminating event. "Yes, the audience comes in with this preconception," he says, "yet leaves with the feeling I want them to have: that ebullient feeling of catharsis."