Stripping this 2000 Tony-nominated musical down to its bare essentials seems to be the best way to appreciate its seductive charms. The Americanized adaptation bears minimal resemblance to the Oscar-nominated British working-class film on which it is based. And don't let David Yazbek's trendy pop score or the show's mildly titillating gags--more tease than sleaze--fool you. At its core, this is old--fashioned Broadway uplift spruced up to feel contemporary and hip. The result in its original San Diego and New York incarnations was an underrated gem brimming with rollicking good fun. Theatre League's sharp touring edition easily lives up to the promise.
Keith Andrews, re-creating Jack O'Brien's original staging, leads a strong cast in mining this populist slice of Middle America for its musical delights and comedic virtues, peppered with heart-rending moments that ring pure and true. Terrence McNally's sly book and Yazbek's trenchantly funny lyrics tell the story of a group of laid-off factory workers in present-day Buffalo who decide the only way to break out of their desperate house-husbands mold and restore their macho dignity is to drop trousers--and whatever else is required--to earn money as male strippers. In the process, the pals--ranging from paunchy to moderately hunky--learn life lessons about putting their butts on the line when it really counts.
In the focal role of ne'er-do-well Jerry, traveling a journey from Peter Pan pop to halfway-responsible dad, Jeremiah Zinger is likeable and amusing, and he belts the catchy ditties and poignant ballads with aplomb. His comic foil, ample-girthed Dave, is in the expert hands of Joe Coots, a sardonic wise guy in the John Goodman mold. Troy Scarborough is uproariously funny as the "big black man" Noah, nicknamed Horse. The droll Penny Larsen, playing the wisecracking piano accompanist, brings showbiz pizzazz to her big number.
Putting the spirited ensemble through their paces, Jim Osorno skillfully recreates Jerry Mitchell's buoyant original choreography, and music director-conductor David Pepin elicits pristine results from the performers and musicians. This wonderfully entertaining show--which ran too briefly on Broadway--goes all the way in this exuberant rendition.