It’s a bit shocking that I’ve been reviewing the New York gay theater scene for nearly 10 years and have never seen “Naked Boys Singing”. It’s not like I haven’t had an opportunity!
This Off-Broadway revue was more or less what I expected, with a little more charm and wit than anticipated. Songs like “Robert Mitchum”—which pays tribute to a time when screen stars didn’t have to be chiseled to be considered sexy—and “Perky Little Porn Star”—about a nice Jewish boy from Skokie who loves his titular job—stand on their own and could easily be excerpted and performed on their own (in clothes, even!).
However, since more than a dozen songwriters contributed to the score, the quality of the material varies widely. The sole “romantic” number of the piece “Window to Window” is so hackneyed it makes me cringe. “The Entertainer”—although it features astute observations about dancers performing in spite of aches and mood swings—is a pretty creaky pastiche of any number of Kander & Ebb songs.
But the songs aren’t the main attraction, are they? The boys are attractive in a varied enough way—though most tend toward the white bread—that most anybody should find something to their taste.
As it turns out, some of the songs require a particular type, and the casting is pretty spot-on. Timothy John Mandala is called upon to be the object of lust or envy in several numbers and he is suitably gorgeous and built. George Livengood is the only performer who is also on the 1998 cast recording, and he’s terrific at working the audience before his own number, the abovementioned “Perky.”
Conceiver and director Robert Schrock keeps the pace crackling, having successfully cut this one-time two-acter down to a lean 70 minutes. Jeffry Denman’s surprisingly intricate choreography makes ample use of what’s on display, with all kinds of silly waggles and spicy innuendos.
As for what’s on display, everybody seems amply endowed, although I have to imagine that there’s a bit of “fluffing” to put on a good “face” and give the bachelorette party girls what they paid $69 for. Speaking of those girls, I should note that this show’s audience is now mostly female.
While I appreciate their interest in the male form, this is in fact a wildly queer show that concludes with two “naked boys” sweetly holding hands. It would be great if some of the show’s original target audience came back to give this perky little revue a second, or even a first, look. They share their New World Stages venue with “Altar Boyz,” which could make for a highly entertaining gay-boy “double feature.”
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.