‘Full Monty’ looks at blue collar creativity and strife

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

“The Full Monty” has had a long life in Metro area theaters, with just about every local company around having put on the musical since it was adapted for the stage in 2000. Detroiters will have two opportunities to catch the play in the coming months: this weekend at the Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue in Wyandotte, and late April through May at The Farmington Players Barn Theatre.

The musical, based on the 1997 British comedy movie of the same title, follows six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers who hatch a plan to make some fast cash while they struggle to pull their lives together. After seeing their wives’ excitement about a touring Chippendales troupe, one of the men enlists his down-and-out co-workers to perform their own strip act at a local nightclub.

Tim Timmer, director of the Farmington Players’ upcoming production, worked on the Players Guild of Dearborn’s 2007 production and the Hartland Players’ production this past summer. He estimates he has also seen the play eight times in various states across the country. He says he’s been drawn to the play time and time again because it reflects his own experience in the workforce.

“It’s not all about guys taking off their pants. It’s about guys who’ve been down on their luck,” Timmer says. “I was working somewhere for 27 years and I lost my job due to attrition or whatever. I was out of work for two-and-a-half years. That feeling can’t be matched.”

Timmer says he thinks so many people in Detroit, where layoffs are a fact of everyday life, find “The Full Monty” cathartic because of the characters’ optimism in spite of their dire circumstances.

“These guys have nothing left but to pull themselves together,” he says. “They do something that’s so out of the ordinary that they never thought they’d have the courage to do, and they learn a little bit about themselves.”

Auditions for the Farmington production begin next week, and Timmer says he’s nervous about finding actors willing to take the risk. He says several members of the Hartland production last year backed out of the production for fear of what it might do to their reputations.

“If the show is done right, it’s not about how much is seen, it’s about what these men are willing to do to come out of their shells,” Timmer says. “My job is to make sure the audience doesn’t see you, with lighting and with the magic of theater. We’re going to be as professional as we can and make sure no one is embarrassed, and we treat everyone with respect.”

Those auditioning should also know that the play doesn’t call for Chippendale bodies. Denny Connors, director of this weekend’s Downriver Actors Guild production of “The Full Monty,” reveals what he was looking for during the casting process.

“These are supposed to be regular, everyday guys,” Connors says. “One of the roles actually calls for the guy to be overweight, and another guy to be pigeon chested. The description of these guys comes right out in the dialogue. We weren’t looking for these guys who were working out constantly.”

Connors secured a couple of veterans from the 2007 Dearborn show for his cast, including Lincoln Park’s Leah Paige Cooley, who reprises her role as Vicki Nichols.

Cooley says she auditioned for the role again because the story hits close to home. A year after she first performed in the play, her husband was laid off from U.S. Steel.

“I was hoping he would go out and strip,” she laughs. “This is a story that could happen in our backyard.”

Even if you’ve already seen “The Full Monty,” each theater group tries to offer a fresh take on various aspects of the material to keep audiences surprised and engaged.

“Even what I bring from my past performance is a completely different take on the character than before,” Cooley says.

Timmer says he hopes to give Farmington’s production an edge by creating a sense of authenticity he hasn’t seen in other local versions of the play.

“I’ve done some research with a steel town in Buffalo that I’m basically basing this on, using storefronts that all match that town,” he says. “We’ve got several members who were from that area, so I’m borrowing Buffalo Bills T-shirts and Buffalo Sabres sweatshirts. I’m making it as real as I can.”

The most expensive and complicated aspect of Farmington’s production won’t even be seen until just before the final curtain falls. Timmer currently has welders and electricians working on a “Full Monty” sign made out of steel and about 1,500 light bulbs for the play’s big reveal.

“We’re going to do everything we can even for that last brief moment to make sure it sells and it pops,” Timmer says. “It’s all about bringing life to the story and making it look good all the way through.”

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

‘The Full Monty’

Downriver Actors Guild

7:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 3 p.m. Sun.

Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue

2656 Biddle, Wyandotte

Tickets $16, $3 discount for seniors and students

(734) 407-7020


Farmington Players

April 29-May 21

The Farmington Players Barn Theatre

32332 Twelve Mile, Farmington Hills

Tickets $18-$20

(248) 553-2995