Naked Boys Singing, currently taking over the Seymour Centre’s York Theatre for a limited time, does exactly what it says on the box. It’s a totally fun and light-hearted romp of a revue in which eight men perform a number of musical numbers with a wink, a nudge, and not a stitch on.
The popular show ran for 11 years off-Broadway and was even filmed for DVD (in which it presumably loses in transition from live performance to film some of its spark; the current production is a lot more entertaining). It’s a bit of a cult hit and I found that there’s something really freeing in its remarkably non-sexualised nudity, and not just in that it’s remarkable, considering all the innuendo, that the nudity is completely inoffensive and not in the least distracting.
Director/Producer Jonathan Worsley has tweaked the show here and there to have it a little more suited for Australian audiences (you slip in a Darlinghurst and a Penrith and you’ve got the crowd), and the performers should be applauded for their commitment to the task at hand, and not having a single thing to hide behind. The show is steeped in gay culture and proud of it, and the choreography of Adam Williams is not only just as risque as the lyrics, it’s also technically and athletically impressive.
There’s no running theme or plot, but it’s hardly necessary when presented with a repertoire that runs from playful (‘The Naked Maid’) to irreverent (‘The Bliss of a Bris’) to just plain funny (‘Members Only’).
The calibre of vocal talent is mixed – or perhaps seemed so due to the lack of microphones on the boys (but where would you hide the packs and wires?) – though certainly all the boys can more than carry a tune. The standout talents of the night were Chris McGovern who set the bar with the first solo number ‘Naked Maid’, Tim Carney and Nicholas Gentile with their surprisingly sweet ‘Window to Window’ romance, and Mitchell Roberts who was particularly charming in his signature ‘Perky Little Pornstar’ song as well as choice three-handers about unwelcome changing-room erections (‘Fight the Urge’) and the only clothed number of the night, ‘That’s All’, a good-natured poke at high standards for potential partners.
Musical director Sheena Crouch, armed with only a piano line and a killer sense of humour (emulated perfectly by Michael Bourkas on the piano), played a pivotal role in transporting the audience into the right frame of mind – fun-loving with a touch of camp. The overture included hints of ‘Popcorn’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’ and by the time the boys came onstage with nothing but bowler hats and bright smiles, we were ready to go wherever they wanted to take us.
This isn’t a titillating show in the least, even with all those penis jokes (and, frankly, penises) everywhere you turn. But it’s not supposed to be. It’s a celebration of something that’s taboo and there’s nothing wrong with that (if we hadn’t done that on stage before we wouldn’t have burlesque, or, you know, much art at all). The nudity isn’t even all that remarkable after the initial moment or two. It’s not the point. The point is to embrace that our bodies are there, that it’s ridiculous to pretend they’re not, and to just have some fun. Shame, depending on which books you read and who you talk to, is either a biblical or a social construct. Naked Boys Singing takes shame, throws it out the window, and is exactly, utterly uncompromising. And it’s a lot of fun.