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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 26, 2005

Going the Full Monty

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

"The Full Monty" is a play about working men struggling financially. They decide to become strippers to make extra cash, and in the camaraderie that develops from their routine, recover their self-esteem. From left: Malcolm Rolsal, Howard Bishop, Matthew Pennaz, R. Andrew Doan, Christopher Obenchain, Brent Yoshikami.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Without revealing (pun intended) too much, here's a summary of "The Full Monty." It's a musical based on the British film of the same name, set in Buffalo, N.Y., where a steel mill has just laid off half its work force.

Six steelworkers, described in one song as "beer-drinkin' Chevy-drivin' real live men" who are in desperate straits both financially and psychologically, decide they can make some big bucks by putting on a striptease act, along the lines of a Chippendales show.

As they work on their act, they manage to work through their anxieties about self worth, joblessness, being overweight, fatherhood, bigotry and homosexuality. The end result is a return to dignity and self worth.

It's an unusual musical in that it has enough depth and dimension of characters and lines to stand on its own without music. It's a show with humor and heart.

"The full monty" is British slang for "the real thing" or "the whole shebang."

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When Malcolm Rolsal of 'Alewa Heights auditioned for "The Full Monty" at Diamond Head Theatre, he knew he would have to sing, dance and act.

He didn't know he would have to strip.

"I knew what the play was about but I thought, 'Oh, this is Hawai'i. They're not going to do that,' " Rolsal said. "When they told me at the first meeting after I got the part (of Horse) I was just stunned. I am not looking forward to it. I will never be at ease with taking my clothes off on stage."

As lead vocalist with the old-school R&B band eightoeight, Rolsal is normally comfortable on stage as long as he's fully clothed.

The angst he shared in a pre-run interview with the cast last week echoed the angst of the characters in the show. However, not all of the local cast is traumatized at the prospect of stripping on stage. Apprehensive, yes. Traumatized? Not really.

In fact, there hasn't been a stampede to the gym or a run on running shoes since they got the parts. Maybe these guys have a little more self-esteem and sense of self worth than the out-of-work Buffalo mill workers they portray.

To keep in character, Rolsal said, "I purposely stayed out of the gym. Horse is supposed to be in his 50s or 60s," so he's not supposed to be buffed and body-beautiful. Makeup and hair will have to age Rolsal considerably.

Matthew Pennaz of Hawai'i Kai, who plays Jerry, said "I did Jesus Christ Superstar last year, and that was a shirt-off event, and I figure that's almost there. After this production, there's no where to go but up." He modestly confessed to going to the gym a little more often, in addition to the dance lessons he takes from DHT's artistic director John Rampage.

R. Andrew Doan of Waikiki, who just arrived in the Islands in April with his new bride, plays Dave, an overweight, insecure out-of-work steelworker.

Artistic director John Rampage said he was most concerned about casting this role because "Dave has to be able to act and sing and dance and strip, and yet he had to be heavy-set."

He hit the jackpot with the talented Doan, who has now performed in 42 states. Actually, Doan came to Rampage to apply for a job backstage, but was encouraged to try out for the role.

"Dave is a big guy, so it's OK that I don't have the money to pay for a gym membership or to eat quite right. The only thing I'm doing differently is trying to get more sun," Doan said.

Aside from body type, Doan said "I'm so much my character it's almost silly. My wife got a job as soon as we got here, and I didn't, so I've been out of work. It's so dead-on it's scary."

On the other hand, Pennaz is single and has no children, "So it's hard to find my character, because he's divorced and has a son that he's battling for. I've had to spend extra time trying to find the motivation behind Jerry."

Howard Bishop of Hawai'i Kai, the senior member of the troupe, plays Harold, the supervisor who hasn't had the heart to tell his high-maintenance, shopaholic wife that he is out of work. Bishop said he has been "going to the gym religiously for three months, lifting weights and running and everything else" to prepare for the strip scene.

While munching through a bag of Skittles, Christopher Obenchain of Mo'ili'ili, who plays Malcolm, said, "I'm not worried about taking my clothes off. I'm not skipping the cake. However, my friend, who's an aesthetician, said that skin looks better when you drink a lot of water, and since you'll be seeing lots of skin, I'm drinking lots of water."

The local-looking guy in the group, Brent Yoshikami of Nu'uanu, who plays Ethan, said "It hasn't hit me yet, I don't think. I'm eating a little better and working out some. I haven't had any McDonald's in five weeks. I had an L&L plate lunch once, but with brown rice." He added, "I'm more concerned with the dance moves and harmonies than with the stripping part. There's a limit to how much you can do to work out. I'm concentrating on the other stuff."

Pennaz chimed in with a grin, giving Yoshikami the once-over: "That's easy for you to say."

Cast member Vanessa Manuel of Diamond Head tried to organize an outing to a male strip show, but she was turned down. "I thought it might tarnish my performance if I saw the pros do it," Bishop said, tongue firmly in cheek.

The women in the cast have been supportive all along. They put up a "fan" poster backstage with smooch marks on it praising the men and offering them "100 percent support."

The comfort level and esprit de corps are undoubtedly a credit to the tact and compassion of director/choreographer Tim Albrecht, who is here from New York just for "The Full Monty."

Albrecht knows the production well, as he was the assistant choreographer for the original pre-Broadway show.

Casting was a challenge, Albrecht said, "Not just because of the taking-off-your-clothes issue, but because there are such specific requirements for voice, dance, age, race and body type. It becomes a very narrow field with all the specific requirements."

At the callback after the first audition, Albrecht dismissed all the women and asked the men to stay behind. "I closed the doors and played some strip music and said they could take off whatever clothes they wanted to take off. Some got down to their boxer shorts and others just took off shirts, shoes and socks. As they were about to leave, one of the men said, 'Hey can we try that again?' On the second time around, a lot more came off.

"I think for a few of them, there was more angst earlier on, but as we started to know the piece and get to know each other, people's inhibitions relaxed a little," Albrecht said.

Camaraderie is at the heart of "The Full Monty," as they're "all in the same boat," as Pennaz and Bishop said simultaneously ... "So we're all going, 'I'm not doing it until you do it' then we all just did it."

Does "it" mean, literally, the full monty? We'll never tell. Just go see it and find out.

Reach Paula Rath at prath@honoluluadvertiser.com.