FULL FRONTAL PHOENIX, AT THE BASIE

fullmonty

Scenes from the Phoenix Productions staging of the hit musical THE FULL MONTY, featuring Rumson’s Andrew Newsome (center at left) and Middletown’s own Tom Frascatore at the end of the not-so-thin blue line.

By TOM CHESEK

As the resident community stage troupe at the landmark performing arts venue that is the Count Basie Theatre, the people of borough-based Phoenix Productions have been known to bare their souls onstage, give audiences a fresh look at fifty-year old classics, and drop everything for the sake of their art. But until now, no one said anything about The Full Monty.

Adapted by Tony winner Terrence McNally from the surprise hit British movie of the same name, Monty the musical centers around a bunch of laid-off, beaten-down blue collar joes living in the rust-belted, beer-bellied, kielbasa-fed world of (non)working class Buffalo. They’re a group of guys who have lost not just their jobs, but their station as breadwinners in their families. With the help of a clever score by David Yazbek, they find a way to earn cash, win back a measure of self-esteem and maybe even get back into shape, by forming their very own male stripper revue for the local ladies.

The show, which has proven to be a popular property in revival, opens tomorrow night and continues for the next couple of weekends as the final offering of the 2010 Phoenix season — and, to answer your question, a company insider assures redbankgreen that yes, they will be “going the Full Monty” (and no, it’s apparently not an extended engagement).

According to Phoenix artistic director Tom Frascatore, the show is “about hope, about self-respect. It’s a great story, with wonderful lyrics, and it’s especially poignant given the economic realities of so many people’s lives.”

Frascatore takes to the stage this time as Harold, one of the enterprising neighborhood buddies and the troupe’s more or less official choreographer. He joins a cast (under the supervision of director and actual choreographer James Grausam) that spotlights Eric Harper as struggling dad Jerry, with Jeff Dworkin, Jay Giberson, TJ Balady and Aaron Lee Battle representing the members of the Hot Metal revue.

“This story resonates in some pretty interesting ways,” says Frascatore, who notes that “two or three of our principal cast came to this project having recently lost their jobs.”

What’s really resonated with audiences are the final seconds of the show, in which the characters (and the actors who portray them) show how far they’re willing to go for their art. While a wee bit of onstage nudity is not unheard of in Phoenix history (the company performed a flow-it-show-it production of Hair several seasons back), Frascatore points with pride to the fact that “we don’t shy away from reality here. We don’t do the high school version of this show.”

While costumer Carole Malik can conceivably trim a few bucks from the budget here and there, the company’s production values remain another source of pride to the Phoenix phalanx, with Ashley Cusack‘s stylized set design augmented by a lazy-susan revolve that Frascatore pronounces “cool.”

And as for the scene that calls for a car onstage — as Frascatore tells it, “yes, we got a whole car from a garage on the far side of Maple Avenue, and no, it doesn’t run — and yes, it had to be pushed down Maple, during rush hour, with non-powered brakes and steering.”

Also onstage as the women in the lives of the Metal men are Kaitlyn Bernaski, Bre Cade, Janice Liddy, Jennifer Nelson and Christine Paccillo — with Andrew Newsome as Jerry’s son Nathan. The young Rumson resident (and seasoned actor) was one of two local kids who platooned in that same part, during a 2009 Monty produced by ReVision Theatre Company in Asbury Park.

“It’s a show full of quick, small scenes — and some nightmarish changes,” says Frascatore, in reference to the fast-paced life of a middle-aged male stripper. “There are places where you have two minutes to go from a breakaway stage outfit, to being dressed up in a funeral suit.”

But what of the lead actors’ most sizable concern — a dilemma outlined in the song “The Goods,” and exacerbated by the Basie auditorium’s old reputation for chill late-autumn drafts in the days before the extensive renovations?

“Shrinkage is a concern, yes,” observes Frascatore. “But it’s not the temperature, it’s the thought of 1,000 people looking at you.”

Opening Friday at 8:00p, The Full Monty continues with five more performances at the Count’s crib through November 21. Tickets are priced between $22 – $29, and can be reserved at the Basie website.