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Kokandy Productions’ ‘The Full Monty’ bares heart, soul (and more)

When Kokandy Productions staged a red-hot revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” at Theater Wit last year, it served as yet another reminder that this city is now home to a slew of small companies with formidable musical theater chops and big ambitions. As if to seal the deal, Kokandy has returned to Theater Wit with a rousing, boldly intimate take on “The Full Monty,” that jazzy blue-collar musical that moves to the beat of David Yazbek’s audacious score and supremely smart lyrics, and features a solid book  by Terrence McNally that is an Americanized version of the hit 1997 British film.

‘THE FULL MONTY’

Highly recommended

When: Through April 12

Where: Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont

1229 W. Belmont

Tickets: $38

Info: (773) 975-8150

http://www.kokandyproductions.com

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

The story spins around six men, several of whom have lost their jobs at a Buffalo, New York, steel mill and are suffering from all the lost pride, lost paychecks and troubled family relationships that can come with long-term unemployment. When desperation sets in, one of them, Jerry Lukowski (Garret Lutz, an outstanding singer-dancer who would be ideal as the lead in “Once”), gets an idea. Observing how a show by The Chippendales, the notorious male strip act, draws huge crowds of women willing to shell out big bucks for tickets, he decides to stage a one-night-only male strip show in which he and his pal, Dave Bukatinsky (the sweetly appealing Scott Danielson, who makes fine use of his extra poundage, and can also dance with style), plus a few others, promise to up the ante and “go all the way.”

This is quite a flesh-baring show to stage in one of Theater Wit’s up-close-and-personal spaces, where the audience and performers are just inches away from each other. But the mix of male ego and male vulnerability is what this show is all about. And the terrific actors, expertly directed by John D. Glover, have clearly channeled whatever inhibitions they might have in ways that are alternately hilarious, poignant and real. Danny Spagnuola’s pelvis-swiveling choreography very shrewdly suggests the comically amped-up efforts of amateurs. And music director Kory Danielson’s hard-driving eight-piece band, perched in a balcony above the stage, gives Yazbek’s score all the brassy punch (and delicacy) it deserves.

While the gimmick of the show is the strip act, what makes it all work is pure heart. Jerry is insightful enough to know that he is something of a loser — divorced, and the father of Nathan (the ideally gangly Kyle Klein II), he craves the admiration of the young son who in many ways is more mature than his dad. Dave, who suffers from body image issues, is more balanced, but he mourns the loss of intimacy with his wife, Georgie (Marsha Harman), who tries reaching out to him.

Caron Buinis (atop piano) plays Jeanette, surrounded by the cast of "The Full Monty." (Joshua Albanese Photography)

Caron Buinis (atop piano) plays Jeanette, surrounded by the cast of “The Full Monty.” (Joshua Albanese Photography)

Recruited to serve as dance coach is Harold Nichols (Eric Lindahl), the man who fired Jerry and Dave before being fired himself — a fact he has kept secret from his wife, Vicki (Colette Todd), the material girl he fears losing. His dancing recruits, chosen at an audition that suggests everyone has a hidden desire to be part of show biz, include: Malcolm MacGregor (George Toles is perfection), the nerdy but willing Mama’s boy who falls for Ethan Girard (Greg Foster), the guy hellbent on dancing up a wall like Donald O’Connor; and Noah “Horse” T. Simmons (Randolph Johnson is a hoot, and can really move), an elderly black man who comes in on a cane and proceeds to dance up a storm. Arriving on the scene out of who knows where, and ready to be their piano accompanist, is Jeanette A. Burmeister (the marvelously zany Caron Buinis), a very Off Broadway baby who has seen it all many times over.

The vocal power of the ensemble is impressive throughout. And the runway finale (on Ashley Ann Woods’ cleverly devised industrial set, skillfully lit by Cat Wilson) is a coup, complete with macho uniformed dancers, red thongs, flashlights and bare butts.