Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre has created an astonishingly bright production of "The Full Monty," mining the musical for all its emotional depth and wild humor.

I wasn't expecting to be surprised by the production; it was the sixth time I'd seen the show. But I was profoundly surprised. What in my mind had been a nice, warm musical about a group of out-of-work steel workers staging a strip show to earn some much-needed cash turned out to be something much more.

Director John Maio and his cast have found in Terrence McNally's script a world of wisdom on the human condition, particularly the relationships between husbands and wives, while squeezing each chuckle and belly-laugh out of the show.

At the heart of this musical is the teetering relationship between Jerry Lukowski (Todd Carver) and his estranged wife, Pam (Sue Claire Jones), who is threatening to block Jerry's access to his son, Nathan (Max DeSantis), unless he can come up with overdue support money.

Jerry is inspired -- or desperate enough -- to try a new way of making money: stripping. A professional male-stripping company had just made a killing in the town, and Jerry figures a troupe of local talent would be even better. He promises his guys will go the full monty when it comes to the stripping part.

His pals are hesitant, but when he tells them there will be about $50,000 to be made in one night, the guys hop on board and eagerly flock to an audition. The cash beats the $9 an hour promised by the few security jobs in town, and may buy some extra stuff around the house, restoring a bit of dignity and relationships with spouses.

The audition for the show may be one of the most hilarious bits of theater ever on stage. The men who decide to try out experience emotions well beyond stage fright, dealing with body image issues they'd never thought about, concerns about size of bellies and other things and a general sense that they are doing something quite unmanly.

But there's the $50,000 and the sense that their relationships are in critical care and close to flat-lining. So, it's basically a strip-or-die situation.

As the show draws near, the guys continue to worry, but they are able to talk about things at home -- feelings they'd not been able to explore with their wives.

The show is full of funny, moving moments. The relationship of the whole Lukowski family is a delight, as is the emerging closeness of Dave Bukatinski (Marty Newton) and his wife, Georgie (Julia Etzel). Big humor comes from Belinda Maloney's turn as the guys' accompanist, a former vaudevillian who will say just about everything, and Lavale-William Davis, as Noah "Horse" T. Williams, who lets it all go in his audition number, "Big Black Man."

Choreographer Kevin Hammond has created some incredible dances, including the blow-the-roof-off final number. Kelly Tighe's set is a beautiful, functional and colorful piece of art.

And then, of course, there's the final question. Do the guys go the full monty? Do you get to see it all in downtown Livermore?

Well, that is the question, isn't it?

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.

'THE FULL MONTY'

By David Yazbek and Terrence McNally, presented by Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre

When: Through Feb. 3
Where: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore
Running time: 2 hours,
30 minutes
Tickets: $28-$38, 925-373-6800, or http://tickets.livermoreperformingarts.org/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=2829


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