Women have had their Menopause The Musical. Gay men have had their Naked Boys Singing. Now, at last, straight men have their very own R-rated musical revue—Real Men Sing Show Tunes…and play with puppets, now tickling the ribs of both male and  female theatergoers seventeen and older at the Palos Verdes-adjacent Norris Theatre.

R_M_A013copy The brainchild of Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria, Real Men Sing Show Tunes…and play with puppets stars three real male triple-threats and a bunch of Sesame Street-esque puppets performing over two-dozen songs and sketches about what it means to be a 21st Century heterosexual and “working hard with the balls we have to juggle”—and you don’t have to be a member of its target audience to find yourself laughing along.

Santa Maria and Louis debuted their show last year at Miami’s Actors’ Playhouse, sharing the stage with Stephen G. Anthony and accompanied by a single piano. Now, directing the show’s West Coast Premiere, Santa Maria is joined onstage by SoCal triple-threats Chris Warren Gilbert and Chris Kauffmann, while down in the pit, musical director extraordinaire Daniel Thomas conducts a terrific four-piece band. (Did I say triple-threats? Sorry, make that quadruple-threats, since not only do the talented trio sing, dance, and act, they play with puppets with the best of them.)

Real Men Sing Show Tunes…and play with puppets takes its three leading men on a journey from childhood to old-age in a series of clever, hummable songs organized under the sub-headings Really Single, Really Domesticated, Really Forty, Really A Parent, and Really A Relic.

R_M_B029copy A pair leitmotifs run through the two-act show. One has troubled real man Gilbert seeking guidance from Teutonic psychiatrist Kauffman and his pigtailed puppet assistant Susie Sunshine (because everyone knows you can talk more freely to a puppet than to a fellow human). The other has cast members enumerating (from The Book Of More Men) the many reasons why “Men Are The Happier Gender.” (These include: “You can dust a table just by blowing on it,” “A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase,” and “A seven-course meal is a Subway sandwich … and a six-pack.”)

The evening’s first solo, “I’m Not,” has Santa Maria aided and abetted by one dancing prop after another as he makes it perfectly clear that although “I love Judy Garland, and Marlene Dietrich, and I’ve even mastered the old toilet seat trick, I’m not gay.”

R_M_B205copy “Look Straight Ahead” has our three manly men lined up in front of urinals and offering the musical advice to “Look straight ahead, look straight ahead, look straight ahead, like in a trance, or if you slightly glance aside, you take a stupid chance,” before going on to entertain the audience with their “Manly Pee-Pee Dance.”

R_M_B116copy In “Every Woman Love,” Gilbert appears in Elvis mode to explain why “every woman loves a douche bag,” in other words, the kind of man who’ll tell a woman he’s interested in hooking up with to “swing by later and pick me up at my girlfriend’s house. It’s all right. She’ll be asleep.”

“A Woman With Kids” has Santa Maria lamenting that “I will never understand why I chose to take the hand of a woman with kids from another man” with Gilbert and Kauffman joining in as two human-headed, puppet-bodied tykes.

All three men attempt to justify dining at Hooters in “All About The Wings.” (They claim it’s “all about the wings.”) Kauffmann warbles a “Married Man’s Lament” (“I used to have a penis”), accompanied by an honest-to-goodness singing-dancing male organ measuring six feet tall. “I Will Be There For You” has a Sopranos-type new dad coaching his newborn son Dominic on how to say “Fugedda-bout-it!”

Then there’s “Prairie Men,” a showstopper featuring the three leads as tutu-wearing, ballet-dancing cowboys who measure a mere three-feet tall. (Amazing what a bit of puppet magic can do.)

If Act Two does go a bit heavy on the sentimentality, there are fortunately still enough gags to punctuate its schmaltzier moments, as when Santa Maria tells a seven-foot-tall Grim Reaper, “Hey, I hear ‘Dead is the new 90.’”

Working non-stop backstage (and sharing curtain-call bows) are puppeteers Jason Sluyter and Erwin Bayan, while Chris Warren Murry completes the show’s trio of Chrises as  stage manager.

Like Avenue Q before it, Real Men Sing Show Tunes…and play with puppets proves that you can get away with just about everything (and keep even your oldest and most conservative matinee subscriber rolling in the aisles) if you do it with puppets. Looks like co-creators Louis and Santa Maria have a franchise on their hands.

Norris Theatre For The Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Rolling Hills Estates.

–Steven Stanley
April 28, 2013
Photos: Ed Krieger

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