LARGO — It's history in the making. During Eight O'Clock Theatre's staging of The Full Monty starting Friday at the Largo Cultural Center, six male performers will strip to their skin for the show's final number, Let It Go.
But care has been taken to make sure no one will be offended.
"It is true that this is the first time naked men have been on our stage,'' said Betsy Byrd, Eight O'Clock's business manager. "But the truth is, the lighting will make it so the audience really doesn't see full nudity. The light queue puts the men in silhouettes.''
The Full Monty was first a 1997 movie, then in 2000 was adapted into a musical for the stage by playwright Terrence McNally and composer David Yazbek. It tells the story of a group of unemployed steelworkers who strip for cash.
Although the movie version had the guys living in Sheffield, England, the musical transplants them to Buffalo, N.Y.
Jerry Lukowski (played by Zachary Hurst) is down on his luck and needs to earn money to pay child support so he can see his son again. After watching women in town go crazy over Chippendale dancers, he persuades his buddies to join him in a striptease act for money.
They get a little carried away, and before you know it, Jerry tells some fans-in-the-making that their act will be better than the Chippendales because they'll show off everything. They'll go "the full monty.''
When it came to enlisting the local performers who would lose their clothes, it was important to make sure they were comfortable with the situation, said director Michael Newton-Brown.
"First of all, the audience never sees naked men,'' said Newton-Brown. "When it's time for that, they are in darkness, but at the auditions, the first thing I asked was if they had a problem taking clothes off in public. If they did, there was no point to proceed further.''
The person responsible for shrouding the naked men in darkness is Dalton Hamilton, Eight O'Clock Theatre's technical director. He admits he might be feeling a bit more pressure with this show, but he's having a blast.
"It's a great challenge, and a challenge is always fun,'' said Hamilton, 17.
Hamilton created a giant sign with 150 lights on it that will flash on behind the actors, putting them in silhouette at just the right moment. Hamilton has let it be known that for the pivotal scene at the end, he wants to be the sole operator of the light board.
"Timing in this is very important,'' he said. "The last beat is when it all happens. The guys literally pull off their G-strings, and that's when we put them in silhouettes.''
Are the actors confident Hamilton knows what he's doing?
"He better, because we have to keep our hands up after we take it off,'' said Kyle Hill, who plays the part of Malcolm, a lonely security guard.
"We look at it this way. Dalton wants to see us just as little as we want him to,'' joked Chris Bragg, who plays the part of Ethan, who yearns to dance like Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain.
Although he understands why much is made of the nudity, Newton-Brown, who has been involved in two other productions of The Full Monty, stresses that the stripping is about more than guys getting naked.
"The strips are symbolic of how each of the characters is gaining confidence in themselves and overcoming issues,'' he said. "Although it is exciting that the theater is going out so far on doing this, the stripping is not a big deal, as long as we get it right. Not once have I seen a nude body up there.''
The director thinks the success of the show also hinges on the way the audience accepts the characters.
"We want to make sure the audience falls in love with these people," he said. "The audience really becomes the cheering section.''