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Theater review: 'Full Monty' brings big voices, wicked fun to season opener

"The Full Monty" opened this week at the Norshor Theatre. (Duluth Playhouse photo)

If you saw "The Full Monty" the first time the Duluth Playhouse put it on, then I should tell you: There is a little bit more to see, this time around.

The musical version of the 1997 hit film opened Thursday night at the NorShor Theatre and showed again how entertaining a musical about unemployment, depression, suicide, divorce, impotence and brief nudity can be.

Shad Olsen almost always plays the nice guy in a musical, but this time he is an unemployed deadbeat dad, Jerry Lukowski, who comes up with the bright idea that easy money can be made if he and his friends become strippers.

This gives Olsen an edge we have not seen before, which works well with both the inherent anger in "Scrap" and "Man," but even more so when he sees the world just beyond his grasp in "Breeze Off the River."

Gabriel Sell is so comfortable in the role of Dave Bukatinsky, he makes Jerry's wingman loveable from the moment we meet him, which only further underscores how much of a jerk Jerry can be to those he supposedly loves.

The show's leading lady turns out to be Mary Kay Fortier Spalding as salty piano player Jeanette Burmeister, who shows up to see how many times she can steal a scene in a single scene (after taking a single line to bring a lump to your throat with her brief turn as Molly MacGregor).

Spalding's counterpart in thespian thievery is Nethaneel Williams as Noah "Horse" Simmons. From the moment he appears on stage and rips through "Big Black Man," Simmons absolutely owned the audience. Every slip of the hips got a reaction.

Logan Johnsrud does a nice job as Jerry's son, Nathan, nudging rather than pushing his dad in the right direction.

"The Full Monty" features a very strong set of female vocalists. As Vicki Nichols, Christina Stroup milks "Life With Harold" for every note, inflection and laugh possible. Sara Marie Sorenson as Dave's wife, Georgie, leads the ladies in "It's a Woman's World"; they also rock their half of "The Goods."

"Big Ass Rock" is wickedly funny, but does nudge Jerry and Dave a bit outside their characters, while Sell and Michael Kraklio as Harold Nichols deliver woefully ironic lyrics set against the pensive music of "You Rule My World."

Right before the big ending comes the emotional numbers. Tyler Goebel makes the heartache in Malcolm's voice palatable in "You Walk With Me," which ends as a sweet duet with Kyle McMillan's Ethan. Sorenson and Stroup turn the "You Rule My World" reprise into a true love song.

Director-choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell's concerted effort to come up with dance moves actually appropriate to a bunch of working class stiffs pays dividends, especially with the visual delight of the basketball game in "Michael Jordan's Ball."

Music director Kyle Picha leads a stellar 10-piece orchestra, and the addition of a pair of speakers significantly improved the ability of those of us camped out in front of the stage to hear the singers.

If you go

What: "The Full Monty"

When: 7:30 Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 30

Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.

How much: Tickets start at $35. Student rush tickets available.

Online: www.duluthplayhouse.org

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