Former unemployed carpenter, Italian actor Simone Lagrasta (L) performs with dancers during a rehearsal of the musical, The Full Monty in a theatre in Rome. AFP Photo
Simone grins as four racily-dressed women rip away his trousers to reveal a leopard-print thong: he is one of two unemployed men who have won a part in Italy's "The Full Monty" musical, a new take on the trials of the Italian job market.
The show -- a remake of the 1997 British film and 2000 Broadway musical -- will open on January 30, less than a month before Italy's general election, and tackles one of the country's sore points: its record unemployment levels.
"Now and then musicals must address reality. Right now, everyone in Italy is faced with the problem of employment, it's the biggest theme of this decade," the show's director, Massimo Piparo, told AFP during rehearsals in a large warehouse on the outskirts of Rome.
The financial crisis and unemployment in particular -- which has shot up in five years from seven to 11 percent -- are the biggest issues worrying Italians ahead of the February 24 and 25 ballots.
"Everything -- from the opening song 'It's all the fault of the spread' to the final scene which quotes our constitutional right to work -- is moulded to fit reality in Italy," Piparo said.
The tale of factory workers who lose their jobs and re-invent themselves as strippers to earn a living is re-located from Sheffield to the industrial northern city of Turin -- where Piparo opened auditions for the musical up to would-be stars among the local unemployed.
Two of the 70 people who auditioned made the grade: 24-year-old Simone Lagrasta, an out of work carpenter, and unemployed factory worker Marco Serafini, 38, landed a one-year contract to do the musical.
Lagrasta, who had been out of work for nearly two years, said winning the role gave him back some of the confidence stripped away by repeatedly hearing "there is no work for you, stay at home".
"To have breathing space, for a year, helps a great deal. Especially in a world like this, it gives me such strength that I now think I would be able to overcome mountains just with the power of thought!" he said as fellow "strippers" practiced their dance performances nearby.
Getting naked turns out not to be such an issue, if it means a pay check in return, he said. "In the end, it's just a job."
Serafini, whose past work experience has included selling hair products, does not look quite as confident as he stands in the warehouse's dressing-room, where a costume designer rushes to finish adjusting the bright red leather thongs for the show's hotly-awaited strip-tease scene.
He puts his success in being picked down to his teenage experiences singing in a rock band and years of clubbing. "Dancing in a discotheque can give you a lot of skills," he said.
"I will always carry inside me the rage that I felt in the dark days, when I didn't have a job and didn't know what to do with myself, and I'll use it on stage as well," he said.
"I want it to mean something," he said, adding that he hoped the show would mean spectators "will forget about the crisis at least for one evening".
The musical's American choreographer Bill Goodson, who has worked in the industry for 30 years, said "having real men on the stage who are neither great Broadway artists or music hall actors creates a big effect".
"They are not extremely good looking, they don't have incredible builds but they rouse affection: you need courage to get naked like that in front of everybody. 'Full Monty' means exactly that: Full," he added.
After 15 days in Rome, the musical will show across Italy for several months. Lagrasta and Serafini said they do not know whether there will be opportunities for them in the showbiz world in the future, but are determined to make the most of this chance.
"This world was off limits to me. I thank heaven for helping me get on the show-train and hope I never have to get off," Lagrasta said.
"My dream is this: to make it. But mainly, my dream is never to have to go back to being unemployed again."