Big Monty Lights Up Forest Roberts Theater

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AN AWKWARD ENCOUNTER—Jerry, played by NMU alumnus Brady Skewis (middle) talks with his ex-wife Pam, son Nathan and part-time lover Estelle, during the second act of “Full Monty.”

Mary McDonough

Over half the seats were filled with an audience buzzing with curiosity and anticipation. Blocked by the long red curtain, people were left to simply wait for what was in store. There was no way to predict what came next. 

Filled with catchy, fast paced music and a lines of dark, brutally honest humor,  the story follows six unemployed steelworkers in Buffalo, New York. Struggling to make money and hold their lives together, one of the steelworkers stumbles into a strip joint and realizes how much money they can make for a comeback. 

The energy of “Full Monty” opening show still hung around like something electric in the Forest Roberts Theatre (FRT) Oct. 12. For Director Keli Crawford-Truckey the work began over the summer, searching for young men that would feel comfortable and confident enough to be vulnerable and undressed during a number of different moments in the show. 

But besides casting, there also came a technical aspect to keep the show moving. In order to keep Crawford-Truckey’s desire for non-stop action, Set Designer Lex van Blommestein built platforms on wheels. 

“This production has specific requirements, there are types you really have to fill. For example, we have to have one guy who is pretty big and another who’s a little bit mousy,” Crawford-Truckey said.  “The script itself is very cinematic, it moves quickly and changes locations very quickly. All the set pieces and furnishings come in on these units.” 

As far as dance goes, Choreographer Jill Grundstrom was learning along with the six male actors. The different movements between men and women posed a challenge, but not one too hard to overcome. Grundstrom said this production is an opportunity to showcase local men in theater.

“It’s been awesome and kind of crazy. I’ve never choreographed for a group of just men before so this has been different but exciting,” Grundstrom said. “To have such a great, strong group of men performers is really great for us.” 

Lead character Jerry Lukowski, played by NMU alumnus Brady Skewis, instigates the idea of stripping in order to quickly pay off his child support payments and continue seeing his young son. Skewis’ character starts to undress throughout the show until the very last second during the strip routine when all the “Hot Metal” strip members go out on a ledge and end the routine entirely naked. The idea, though intimidating, was handled carefully throughout rehearsals, Skewis said. Much of the confidence to stand on stage and take that leap came from shared experience with the rest of the “Hot Metal” actors, Skewis said. 

“Obviously being in this moment and building through the whole show to expose myself in front of a live audience is pretty crazy,” Skewis said. “The process was honestly such a great one. The guys that we’re working with are just incredible and I couldn’t have done it with a different group of guys. I really couldn’t have.” 

Each man in “Hot Metal” deals with his own personal crisis that comes with being unemployed and trying to rediscover himself. Freshman theatre major Will Smith opened his first FRT production playing buttoned-up, proper business man Harold Nichols. But this show was a bit overwhelming in terms of exposure, Smith said. 

“In my first month it was like, ‘Here’s a lead role but also you have to get naked on stage.’ But everything happens for a reason. I’m glad it happened,” Smith said. 

Such a tight-knit bond is something that another “Hot Metal” member and sophomore fisheries and wildlife management major Marcus Bechek, sees among the entire cast.

“It’s been amazing working with everybody. We’ve become a family,” Bechek said. 

Learning and taking risks is something that not only the actors have gone through during this experience, but part of the creative team as well. Sophomore secondary music education and Musical Director Caitlin Palomaki  only had experience working with the youth theatre before taking on “Full Monty.” Being able to take on the music for an entire production is what Palomaki describes as great lessons.

“It’s been such a learning experience, getting hands on work is amazing,” Palomaki said. “I’ve learned so much from the actors and faculty.” 

It’s been nearly 20 years since “Full Monty” first hit the theatre world and when it comes to some secrets of longevity, Palomaki said she sees a lot of that in the music and where the comedy comes out, allowing the actors to try all kinds of new things. 

“It’s just the beat, you want to dance along to it and of course it’s all just a joke,” Palomaki said. “The cast comes up with the most creative things every night.” 

From a different perspective, Crawford-Truckey said the message of the show is the core of what has made this production last. This is the second time “Full Monty” has taken the FRT stage. While casts and concepts are different, there is one thing that remains. 

“I think that a man’s search for himself in the world and the roles he fills be it, a father, provider, or caregiver are universal and timeless, which makes this a really good show because of that,” Crawford-Truckey said. “You can do it and it’s relevant always.” 

For those who feel drawn to see the remaining performances of “Full Monty,” Crawford-Truckey wants audience members to walk away with one thought from the fearless example of “Hot Metal.”  

“I just want them to have fun and find hope. You can be down and out, stuck in a box then come up with a crazy idea like taking your clothes off when you’re physically average and that can give you what you need,” Crawford-Truckey said. “We all get stuck once and a while and need to get out of the box.”

Performances are at 7:30 p.m from Thursday, Oct.17 to Sunday, Oct. 19.