Bare Market

The Full Monty has fun with the body images of men.

Okay, a bunch of average blue-collar slobs get the bright idea that they can earn 50 grand in a single night if they strip butt naked and charge a thousand women $50 each for the privilege of watching them prance around. Go ask the average woman if she'd pay that much to see the man living next door go "full Monty," and she'd probably laugh up a lung.

But logic does not deter this band of buff brothers, and they charge ahead in lockstep with their plan, proving the old adage that there is no "i" in "team" -- but there is one in "penis" and two in "idiot." Movie audiences willingly suspended their disbelief when The Full Monty came out in 1997, and now the musical stage version is at the Palace Theatre. If you let it, this high-energy performance will help you set aside your disbelief, along with some of your stress, for a couple of hours.

The film was set in England, but these Chippendale wannabes are out-of-work steelworkers in Buffalo. Jerry, who needs fast cash for child-support payments, notices women paying good money to see professional male strippers. Quickly bypassing the small differences between the strippers and his buddies (i.e., ripped bods, dancing ability), he recruits five other shlubs to put on a one-night bare-it-all performance at the local strip joint.

The musical's amusing book is written by Terrence McNally, a talented playwright who knows his way around a punch line. And some of the music is funnier than the script. David Yazbek has penned a collection of engaging songs, ranging in style from R&B and rock to blues and ballads. In one scene, Jerry (Will Chase) and Dave (Michael J. Todaro) rescue unemployed Malcolm (Leo Daignault), who is trying to asphyxiate himself in his car. After Malcolm reiterates his suicidal intentions, Jerry and Dave try to prove their fondness for him in the laugh-out-loud song "Big Ass Rock," wherein they promise (with tongue firmly in cheek) to helpfully drop something fatally heavy on his face. Malcolm, smitten by this gesture of overt male sentimentality, finds a reason to live and joins the dance troupe.

While these guys are all supposed to be average dorks, four of the six look as if they spend more time working out at Bally's than splayed on a couch with a six-pack. They are abetted by Jane Connell as senior citizen Jeanette, a razor-tongued showbiz vet and their self-appointed rehearsal pianist.

Directed briskly by Jack O'Brien, the show sweeps you along, so that you don't even mind some of the convenient character reversals and an all-too-pat ending. And speaking of the ending, if you want to see how they're hangin' when the guys do their final frontal strip, you'd better sit in the first row and bring a halogen flashlight. It's the only deeply shadowy moment in this bright and spirited romp.