Buffalo bros bare all in a bare-bones but buoyant revival.
I last saw this 2000 Broadway musical about out-of-work dudes who put on a strip show to pay their bills, which had the misfortune of being overshadowed in its Tony Awards season by the juggernaut that was The Producers, a decade ago when it opened Drury Lane Water Tower Place (now the Broadway Playhouse). I’m happy to report that David Yazbek’s smart, poppy score remains as catchy as ever in Kokandy’s ear-pleasing new production. Terrence McNally’s book, on the other hand, now rings a bit more false.
The musical is based on the 1997 British indie film of the same name. McNally and Yazbek shift the group of former steelworkers from Sheffield to Buffalo, but indicated the time as “the present”; clues like the Act I closer, “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” in which the guys imitate His Airness as a method of learning to move, reinforce as much.
Which makes the show’s gender politics feel so weird. Jerry (Garret Lutz), the prideful ringleader, needs to catch up on his child support payments or he’ll lose joint custody of his beloved son, Nathan (alternating kid actors Kyle Klein II and Seth Steinberg). But he spends much of his onstage time decrying “fairies,” moaning about what kind of men women should want (i.e. him, as opposed to fairies or nebbishes like his ex-wife’s new boyfriend), and discouraging his buddies from taking jobs that are “beneath” them.
Jerry’s best pal Dave (Scott Danielson) is so depressed after months with the steel plant closed he can barely leave the house, but resists his loving wife Georgie’s (Marsha Harman) suggestions of applying for retail as “women’s work.” The guys’ former supervisor, Harold (Eric Lindahl), meanwhile, has hidden his joblessness from his wife and put them in hopeless debt to keep her in luxuries, out of fear she’ll leave him if she knows he’s unemployed. It’s as if McNally’s conception of authentic blue-collar America is either stuck in the 1970s, or, if it’s 2015, takes place at an MRA convention. Another period movie-to-musical about lower-class Brits embracing dance, Billy Elliot, handled similar issues much more satisfyingly a few years later.)
There are some hiccups in John D. Glover’s staging, too; most notably, Glover and his designers haven’t solved the admittedly difficult task of staging, on a storefront scale, an attempted suicide by car exhaust—let alone playing said attempted suicide for laughs, as it’s written. Still, if The Full Monty is facing some issues of aging, Kokandy’s production brings with it mostly strong casting, and the combination of close-up staging and barely-there skivvies gives “intimate theatre” a whole new meaning.
Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit. Book by Terrence McNally. Music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Directed by John D. Glover. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 35mins; one intermission.