It was just over ten years ago that theater-maker extraordinaire Robert Schrock was struck with quite possibly the most brilliant idea of his lifetime.  If nudity, particularly of the male variety, filled theater seats, why not create a show in which every single actor performs naked, and not just brief blink-and-you-miss it full frontal flashes, but for virtually the entirety of the production?  And since the gays love their musical theater more than just about any other genre, why not make this new show a musical revue?  Finally, why not make this a revue about nudity, so that the naked bodies would be integral to the show and not simply gratuitous? 

Thus it was that Naked Boys Singing was born!

Following its world premiere at the Celebration Theatre on March 28, 1998, Schrock’s concoction has gone on to record-breaking national and international success, including ten years (and counting) off-Broadway and a recent filmed version whose availability on DVD has brought those singing naked boys into homes throughout the country and indeed the world.

Still, nothing quite compares to seeing Naked Boys Singing live, and its 10th Anniversary return to West Hollywood is cause for rejoicing.

The people behind Naked Boys Singing (Schrock and a dozen other gifted songwriters*) know very well that no matter how you may justify it, there’s pretty much always a gratuitous aspect to stage nudity. (Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out is a wonderful Tony-winning play, but one can’t help wondering, which came first, its “Baseball Star Comes Out” plot, or the socko box office concept of naked men showering together on stage.)  So how better to open Naked Boys Singing than with a song entitled “Gratuitous Nudity,” the entire cast exposing their privates within the first 40 seconds?  

Though naked bodies are sure to put fully clothed bodies in theater seats, only a show well-worth the price of admission will keep them there for Acts One and Two, and ensure that audiences keep coming in droves.  Fortunately, Naked Boys Singing is just such a show, each new musical number saluting nudity in its own special way. “The Naked Maid” celebrates a housecleaning service that provides its clients with that something extra.  Given that there can be no circumcision without male frontal nudity, “The Bliss Of A Bris” finds its excuse to show the male member in this ancient Jewish ritual.  “Perky Little Porn Star” is about none other than a perky little porn star from Skokie, Illinois (and as everyone knows, there can be no porn without a shedding of clothes). “Muscle Addiction” takes the audience into a boys’ town fitness center where, naturally, it’s absolutely essential to change in and out of gym clothes.

“Fight The Urge” will resonate with every gay man who remembers the high school locker room fear of revealing his sexual orientation in the most involuntary of ways. “Jack’s Song” features the oh-so memorable refrain “I beat my meat.” (No further explanation necessary, right?) “Members Only” celebrates the many synonyms, euphemisms, and slang expressions used to refer to the penile organ. “Nothing But The Radio On” pays tribute celebs who’ve posed naked, and “The Entertainer” salutes performers like Judy and Liza who’ve earned a special place in gay men’s hearts through their particular blend of talent and suffering.

A few numbers have more serious bent.  The beautiful “Window To Window,” its reprise, and “Window To The Soul” follow two gay neighbors who finally connect after months of seeing each other through each other’s windows.  The equally stunning “Kris, Look What You’ve Missed” recalls the many lives lost to the AIDS epidemic.

Despite its gay theater origins, Naked Boys Singing has become a major crossover hit, especially in New York, where over 1,000 brides-to-be (along with nearly 10,000 brides-maids-to-be) have celebrated their pending nuptials serenaded by naked boys. The nudity, while indeed sexy and abundant, is never overtly sexual in nature, the songs are rated PG-13 even at their raunchiest, and though you may find your eyes roving south a good deal more often than they did at, say, Altar Boyz, by the time the second act rolls around and the boys are once again disrobing, being reunited with their private parts feels bit akin to greeting old friends.

How much nudity is there?  Probably more than in any musical since 1969’s Oh Calcutta.  Some songs are performed nude from start to finish, others feature both clothed and unclothed participants, many have their performers disrobing piece by piece, one starts out with its performer entirely naked and ends up with him fully dressed, and one, curiously enough, is performed entirely out of the nude.  It’s “Robert Mitchum,” a salute to the beefier, less toned male icons of the past, and seems like a visitor from another show, though it has one of the evening’s catchiest tunes and cleverest lyrics.

The 10th Anniversary Production now playing at the Macha Theatre features eight of L.A.’s most talented quadruple threats, and to answer the question surely on everyone’s mind, hardly a one of them has any reason to fear audience disappointment upon viewing threat number four, and quite a few are likely to produce oohs, aahs, and even gasps from the gathered crowd. They are also each and every one endowed with long résumés and song-and-dance talent galore. 

Every performer gets his own moment to shine.  Boyish delight Jeffrey A. Johns could easily earn mucho bucks as a naked maid after his vivacious turn performing the song of the same name, sporting nothing but a feather duster and broom. Sexy tattooed daddy Jack Harding gets a ceremonial trim in “Bliss Of A Bris” and embodies a “Perky Little Porn Star” to perfection.  Marco Infante does winning work even in his fully-clothed homage to Robert Mitchum.  (Fear not, he is amply naked in other numbers.)  Timothy Hearl, so memorable in The Full Monty a couple years back, is a charismatic charmer par excellence in “Nothin’ But The Radio On.”  Tony Melson sings a gorgeous, haunting “Kris, Look What You Missed,” and is pretty gorgeous himself.  Broadway’s Eric B. Anthony is a showman extraordinaire with his mile-high kicks as “The Entertainer.”  Daniel Rivera and Victor Tang make strong vocal impressions soloing “Window To Window” and its reprise, then joining voices in “Window To The Soul.”  Johns, Tang, and Hearl provoke smiles of recognition as they “Fight The Urge” in the high school showers. Harding, Infante, and Hearl lead the salute to self-pleasure-vation in “Jack’s Song,” and Johns is featured center stage in “Muscle Addiction.”  

Providing crackerjack piano accompaniment is Ovation Award-winning musical director Gerald Sternbach. Byron Batista has designed the well-chosen costumes our heroes doff and don.  Performer/Assistant Choreographer Tang receives sole credit for staging the evening’s bouncy dance numbers. Though stage manager Carey Dunn’s set design is a velvet curtain (that’s it), he scores high marks for his pizzazzy lighting design. 

Ultimately, the success of Naked Boys Singing comes down to the Naked Boys themselves, and under Schrock’s assured direction, the multitalented octet do not disappoint.  There’s not a more tantalizing evening of musical theater in town, and I’d venture to guess that there won’t be another for quite a long while. Buy your tickets now.  Naked Boys Singing is sure to be a sell-out hit.

* Stephen Bates, Marie Cain, Perry Hart, Shelly Markham, Jim Morgan, David Pevsner, Rayme Sciaroni, Mark Savage, Ben Schaechter, Trance Thompson, Bruce Vilanch, Mark Winkler

The Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
September 25, 2009
                                                                                       Photos: Michael Lamont

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