The crowd ranged from high school seniors like Zoey Schlemper and Susy Spears to octogenarians waited in the lobby of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse for the opening performance of "The Full Monty" by Terrance McNally with music and lyrics by David Yazbek Wednesday evening. They were not disappointed in their enthusiasm.
It was the largest first-night audience that the playhouse had this season, and, if the excitement of the opening is a predictor of success, all bets are off. Artistic Director Zach Curtis managed to pull off another cutting-edge show in Bemidji. It's bawdy, raucous, risqué and over the top with actors willing to "put it all out there," as Paul Reyburn was heard to exclaim.
Reyburn, a veteran actor who has been at the playhouse for years, was joined by his musical director wife, Suzanne Reyburn, last seen at the playhouse for "Man of LaMancha" Suzanne assembled a trio of musicians that not only matched, but surpassed the standards for good summer stock musicians. Pianist Abe Hunter, percussionist Andrew Clemenson with Jake Jackson on bass/guitar kept the rhythm of the show moving seamlessly between songs and dances.
The choreography by Joe Chvala was Broadway-professional to the max, and it was apparent that he worked the players for long hours to prepare them for this musical. The choreography was intricate, and yet the cast of seasoned actors was able to capture the moves convincingly and made it all look easy, quite a feat for actors first and dancers second.
The appreciative audience locked on to the story from the beginning and continued to build the relationship every performer hopes to get during a show.
"I wanted to take her (Susy) out for our one-monthversary, for something special," said Schlemper.
They agreed that it was a good choice, and they were seen laughing throughout the performance.
Another couple of other first nighters, Al and Sue Snider, do not always go to opening nights, but they were there last night as well.
"We thought it would be one of the premiere plays of the season," said Sue. "We saw the first one, 'Forever Plaid,' and decided to catch this one too."
Laughing from the back of house was director Craig Johnson who was still enjoying the lines; the double and triple entendre even after weeks of rehearsal.
Paul Conklin and Becky Marty also agreed that the script was enjoyable.
"You can relate to the characters and their real life situations," they said. "The actors are doing a really good job in portraying the lives of men that we could know right here in Minnesota - out of a job and desperate."
As the story line clearly demonstrates, for a man, what he does is who he is. A man's identify is so closely tied into his image of himself that losing a job can lead to many other crises that are addressed in the play.
Jerry Lukowski, (Ryan Parker Knox), thinks of a way for the group to make some much-needed money after seeing how the women in town respond to a Chippendale dancer. Dressed in a suit and tie, the Chippendale performs a routine straight from the stripper handbook, and that's the first indication that this show is for real, not a poor imitation of life.
Well, as Lukowski and his buddy Dave Bukatinsky (Zach Curtis) agree, they can do the same thing with a bunch of guys, and the women in town would pay money to see them strip. But it all becomes more complicated when they agree to do "the full monty."
Yes, there are glutes, as a matter of fact -glutei with red g-strings attached and then detached. The glutes are from average men, Bukatinsky is the fat guy in tights and Lukowski, the cheerleader of the group, turns out to be the shy one.
The show is rated "R" and for mature audiences only, but once you get past that and let your guard down, it's good fun. Yes, there is some language and adult situations such as married couples coming to an understanding of how much they love and support each other and two of the men recognizing they are also a couple. Some of the lyrics are rather earthy, but all of them relate to how people respond to the stresses and social pressures of life.
One would be remiss not to mention a young actor from Bagley Elementary School, Brody Paggen. Brody plays Nathan, the son of Lukowski. Nathan is mature beyond his years and gets his father to finally "grow up" and take his parenthood seriously. This is Brody's first stage experience and certainly will not be his last. In fact, Brody promises that he will be back on stage somewhere, sometime.
Karen Wiese-Thompson, a favorite of Bemidji theatergoers almost steals the show as Jeanette Burmeister, the acerbic piano player who really has a heart of gold.
The audience laughed and cheered for the entire show and ended it with a standing ovation for a group of ordinary guys who have a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves and at life.
"This show is brilliant, absolutely brilliant" said Cyrus Pansch. "Zach is really going out with a bang with this show; it must be a bitter-sweet time."
The show will be at the playhouse in the Historic Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji until Aug. 13. There is a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Aug. 7. The 8 p.m., performances will be today and tomorrow and then again starting on Wednesday, Aug. 10 -13. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students. The box office number is 751-7270.
This production is underwritten by First National Bank Bemidji, Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and made possible, in part, by a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council.