by Jeff Walsh
Naked Boys Singing.
Whatever thought pops into your head when you think of that phrase, it's probably a good idea to pay close attention to it.
If the notion of a bunch of naked theater boys singing phallus-centric songs for 90 minutes makes you smile, then you'll probably want to give this movie a tumble. If it sounds like torture, it probably won't win you over.
I must confess, I did see the live stage show twice, once in Los Angeles and once in San Francisco. As soon as I heard there was a Naked Boys Singing movie, my fear was they were going to try and reinterpret it for the screen -- a ghastly, incomprehensible idea. Thankfully, the movie (which is playing major cities this fall and coming to DVD in December) is just a filmed version of the stage show in Los Angeles. But it does bring up an interesting issue.
For me, the whole point of this show is that it's just a fun, campy night out. The reason the show has lasted so long is probably due more to bachelorette parties than musical theater fans. But, the show has no illusions about itself. The opening number is "Gratuitous Nudity" and, by the chorus, you've seen the entire cast do full-frontal nudity. So, as much as I enjoyed the show when I did see it live, it is sort of odd to re-experience the same show as a movie. What was playful and fun in the theater seems more voyeuristic and lacking on screen.
The show always played small houses when I saw it, so the cast members engaged the crowd and it seemed like there was some sort of shared joke occurring (similar to a Spinal Tap concert, or else I've just concocted an elaborate mental hoax to justify seeing a naked cabaret act on more than one occasion). We'd all seen other plays tease with gratuitous nudity, or be serious about it, so here was just a musical revue, with no hidden agenda, in the nude.
The songs are often as blatant as the title of the show. "The Naked Maid," "The Bliss of a Bris," "I Beat My Meat," "Perky Little Porn Star," "Nothin' But The Radio On," and "Muscle Obsession" are all pretty much what you expect them to be. The choreography for "I Beat My Meat" has always been a favorite of mine, like some sort of naked body-slapping daisy chain. "Window to Window" is about two neighbors who always see each other getting dressed and undressed in their bedrooms. "Fight The Urge" is about gay teens worried about getting naked in the high school locker room, ironically sung by three guys who think they're the only gay person in the room.
The song that always struck me as out of place in the show is "Kris, Look What You Missed," which has a guy singing to a deceased lover. It's not a bad song, but sandwiched between a song about posing naked for Playgirl and hooking up at the gym, in a show admittedly about gratuitous nudity, it is sort of unwanted gravitas. I know I'm at Naked Boys Singing, no need to doll it up with a dramatic moment to raise the artistic level of the proceedings.
The cast of the movie does an excellent job with the material, bringing the playful spirit the show requires. And the production doesn't go lascivious with the camera. It is shot like a normal show, without penis close-ups or anything.
So, my first instinct would be to say that if you can see the show live, you're probably better off doing that. For me, that experience strikes the right balance between the performers and the audience. But, seeing as that isn't an option for most people, if this show appeals to you (and I think you instinctually know if it does or not by now), give it a whirl in theaters or put it on your holiday gift list.
Here's a preview of the opening number, with some booty-blurring (you can see it without blurring at http://www.nakedboyssingingmovie.com/):
The movie is currently scheduled to play NYC starting October 12, Los Angeles starting October 19, Tucson starting November 9, and Chicago on November 16.