The Full Monty 

THE FULL MONTY, Shubert Theatre. There's many a slip 'twixt the screen and the stage. The 1997 British film on which this musical is based lets you eavesdrop on lovable, out-of-work, out-of-shape, blue-collar blokes who help a chum keep his kid by arduously transforming themselves into strippers--right down to the "full monty." Terrence McNally's Broadway musicalization not only moves the men to downsized Buffalo but evinces a lust to please that feels less innocent and more calculated.

It does please a lot, however, and not just because we forget the men are down-and-out as they open up. McNally's well-pitched dialogue and David Yazbek's pile-driving songs might spell out what was sometimes better as subtext, but they also celebrate the differences that keep these misfits together. If this is A Chorus Line for amateurs, there's a bracing lack of pretension and self-pity. For instance, in the rousing "Michael Jordan's Ball," Jerry Mitchell's basketball choreography feels as fluid and improvised as the sport itself, inviting us to join in as Bob Fosse's dances never do.

Leather-lunged Rod Weber, playing the desperate father and eager promoter, exudes contagious American optimism, and the way Daniel Stewart Sherman changes from a lummox to an almost balletic bump-and-grinder is inspiring. Larry Marshall grabs just as many laughs playing the not-so-big "big black man." And the great Kaye Ballard as a sassy piano player with a vast past delivers showbiz savvy with a mile-long smile and a killer deadpan. Clearly she never met a joke she couldn't sell.

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