Between the wars, Germany had an exuberant " not to mention decadent " cabaret scene. A photo from Naked Boys Singing, recently on the boards at Marigny Theatre, could be slipped into a book about the provocative nightlife of Weimar-era Berlin and seem right at home. Boys, however, is more an entertainment than a provocation. It's racy but doesn't have bite " which may account for its success. Robert Schrock conceived the show and directed the Big Apple premiere in 1999, and the productions just keep coming.
As I sat in the theater waiting for the house lights to dim, I found myself remembering a humorous article I once read about psychological ailments and their national origins. In one called Japanese disease, the victim suffers embarrassment on behalf of someone else. I was afraid the melodious, unclad gents would give me a severe case of the Japanese affliction. But they didn't, and no one in the packed house seemed uncomfortable.
In one sense, this freewheeling paean of pecker pride might be considered a rejoinder to The Vagina Monologues, except that the boys can't bring themselves to strike mournful attitudes about the tragic destiny of bearing a penis. On the contrary, a humorously irreverent tone is set from the jump by a set that consisted of panels with words like 'weenie," 'schlong" and 'prick" scrawled on them. So how upset could a man be about showing his weenie " unless that's not baby talk but an accurate reflection of its magnitude.
Boys is an offbeat musical revue. It doesn't really thumb its nose at middle-class complacency " if there's still such a thing. Gratuitous nudity is the name of the game and six bodies are on full display. Some are slim and sleek, some aren't. High-spirited hijinks carry the day. Much of the humor, as one might expect, grows out of gay experiences, but the dilemmas often have a wonderlandlike surrealism. For instance, in the second number, graceful Jason George dons a pair of yellow rubber gloves (and nothing else) to sing and dance about his work as a naked maid. Philip Gordon regresses to an infantile state (the last age when many of us were comfortabl bare-ass in public). He is surrounded by the rest of the clan in clothes. They are Jewish and are attending baby Gordon's bris (ritual circumcision) which takes us back once again to the idée fixe of the penis. And so it goes. The gay members of a baseball team reel in agony, trying to hide their desire when the other players strip and take luxuriant, soapy showers.
Some numbers are beyond sexual preference. One guy laments that we've lapsed into an age of hardbodies and pumped-up deltoids. What about Robert Mitchum? When Mitchum took off his clothes, he may have been a little soft, but he was a man's man for all that. Another recounts Marilyn Monroe's knockout wisecrack when reporters asked her what she had on when she posed for her famous calendar photo. 'Nothing but the radio," she answered. Now there's a so-called air-head who could have written for Groucho Marx.
I said the show didn't have bite, and it doesn't, not in the sense of castigating the hypocrites, crooks, tycoons and politicians that Bertolt Brecht and company denounced with acidic wit. But there are a few moments when you wonder how the boys are going to pull off some things that sound risqué " like the first act finale when they announce they're going to reveal their techniques for masturbation. Somehow they do it " sort of " in a rousing number that brings the house down. The saucy nudists put on white chefs' toques and aprons, and then they literally beat their meat. It's hard to appreciate this visual pun or many of the other comic skits without the bouncy tunes at their heart.
Julius Dietze, Marshall Harris, Travis Resor and Bryan Wagar ably complete the ensemble. Wagar, in fact, arrives in the guise of a delivery man after the show has already started. He's persuaded by the unclad performers to shed his clothes and join them on stage " partly, perhaps, to remind us how unshocking stripping really is. As far as that goes, however, a call for audience participation went unheeded.
Director Jonne Dendinger established a swift, smooth pace. She also served as musical director and piano accompanist. Donnie Jay was credited with the ambiguous distinction of costume design.
- Naked Boys Singing treated theater-goers to an extended run at Marigny Theatre.