Joel Abels likes to make his audiences squirm a bit.
“I love when audiences have to sit with the material and process it,” said Abels, the creative director of StageWorks Fresno. “We tend to produce pieces that most other theater companies stay away from – throw caution to the wind.”
To that end, StageWorks will bring “The Full Monty” to a Fresno audience for what is believed to be the first time in more than a decade beginning July 21. The musical, based on the 1997 British film of the same name, centers around several unemployed Buffalo steel mill workers who plan to star in their own racy stage production after seeing their wives attend a traveling Chippendales performance. The workers eventually decide to top the Chippendales by going “the full monty” – slang for a fully nude striptease.
The musical debuted on Broadway in 2000. A touring version visited Fresno a few years later, Abels recalled. He was indirectly involved with that production, as one of the former lead actors from his children’s theater company was cast in the tour.
But as far as Abels knows, StageWorks’ summer production will be the first “Full Monty” put on in Fresno by a regional theater company.
“I’m always looking for pieces that are challenging to me as a director, challenging to the actors and challenging to our audiences,” Abels said.
“The Full Monty” is the second of three consecutive Fresno premieres for StageWorks. The company ended its production of “The Christians” in April and will debut “Mothers and Sons” in September. Abels plans to bring two more Fresno firsts next season, but that’s under wraps for now.
“It’s a balancing act, because I’m also trying to program some things that are familiar titles to get butts in seats,” he joked. The company’s last show of 2017, “Little Shop of Horrors,” was selected to do exactly that.
As StageWorks’ upcoming production’s name suggests, nudity – or at least the tease of nudity – plays a part in the performance. Abels recommended that children under 13 stay at home for “The Full Monty” run, which will include 11 shows between July 21 and Aug. 6.
The show’s open casting call in March brought a lot of new faces to StageWorks, Abels said. He also brought in a guest artist from New York to play Noah “Horse” Simmons – a role he felt he just couldn’t cast locally. StageWorks is able to attract great local talent, Abels added, because of its reputation for ambitious projects with shorter, more concise rehearsal periods.
But just how much of this new cast will we see?
“The title of the show is ‘The Full Monty,’” Abels said with just a hint of slyness. “That’s all I will say about this.”