In this age of cable-ready titillation, there isn't much we haven't seen before, right down to Jimmy Smits's gorgeous naked ass on prime-time TV. So why is everyone at Bienvenue's production of Naked Boys Singing! grinning like a roomful of pimply-faced kids when ten buck-naked men prance out to sing the show's opening number, "Gratuitous Nudity"? And why is that whole row of guys audibly gasping over the blond dude on stage who doesn't seem to be doing much at all except, well, standing there with all his talents so obviously apparent?
Yes, indeed: Here we all are, in the gray darkness of a small theater, elbow to elbow, knee to knee, and I'm trying really, really hard to look into the shining faces of these earnest performers. But the eye inevitably wanders to those ten appendages, large and small, flouncing up and down as the performers march, strut, leap and sing in their mostly capable voices. The actors look straight out at us -- an amazed, grinning, giggling mass -- and sing in all their full frontal nakedness, "You finally get what you pay for. It's obvious. You're here to see gratuitous nudity."
That's how it is for the first ten or 15 minutes of this pack-'em-in production, a slightly prurient, vaguely embarrassing and oddly titillating show. But the salaciousness gives way to a musical full of witty, silly songs and charming (though often amateur) performers. By the end of the first act, it's pretty hard to knock the gimmicky affair, which is a whole lot of (fairly) innocent fun.
Take Chad-Alan Carr's rendition of "The Naked Maid," for instance. Armed with nothing but a handheld Rubbermaid pail full of cleaning products, the sweet-faced singer with the choirboy voice sings about the perils of his unusual career. He's "not a mop and blow" man or a "spic and spank" kind of guy. He's just the naked maid.
During "Fight the Urge," we get to see almost every cast member shower while crooning about the difficulties of stripping down together at the gym. Though they come to the same conclusion that every female over the age of 18 already knows -- "It's an evolutionary oversight that dicks have no brains" -- the song is still funny.
Opening the second act is "Members Only," a tune about the odd names devised for the male member. "Dick, prick, schlong, dong, pecker, wanker, weenie, woody," there are no new words here. But something about hearing them sung together, in serious harmony, adds a whole new je ne sais quoi to the euphemisms. The audience was squealing with laughter. And Mikel Reper's "Perky Little Porn Star" steals the show, mostly because of the easy joy that beams from Reper whenever he walks on stage.
There are two serious moments, and both were surprisingly effective. "Window to Window," sung with tenderness by Sean D. Carter, penetrates the heart of loneliness in the big city. Agustin Paz's rendition of "Kris, Look What You've Missed," about a man who has died from AIDS, is moving despite the rough edges of Paz's voice.
None of this material is life-altering. But when is a stage full of naked men ever serious? The show claims 12 writers, but only one person, director Christian De Vries, can be credited for bringing this script in all its nekkid glory to Houston.
Size Does Matter
Christian De Vries, artistic director at Bienvenue, is sitting cross-legged in his theater's tiny dressing room while the guys of Naked Boys Singing! (fully clothed at the moment) rehearse on stage. De Vries has a tendency to look at the world sideways, with flirty cat eyes and a sly grin that slides over his face as soon as I state the obvious: His theater and his current show appear to be doing very well. The production sells out every weekend, and the August 27 close date has been extended. Indefinitely.
De Vries looks for polite words that will explain the show's success. "It's not a show about sex," he finally says. "I think if anybody comes looking for a sex show, they're going to be very disappointed." He pauses, then casts down his eyes and smiles with an almost schoolboy nervousness.
What about all the nakedness on the stage?
He laughs, nervously. "Maybe some people will come because there's nudity."
"Okay, yes, people will come because there's nudity," he finally admits. "But when they leave, I want them to say, 'That was so much fun. I loved that one song, and -- oh, yeah -- they were nude.' "
The whole show is about baring all, which De Vries eventually explains. "It's about nudity and guys and how they deal with embarrassment, the different things that guys go through whenever they confront nudity. Issues such as penis size. I think that's the No. 1 issue." Then he leans over and says conspiratorially, "You would not believe how paranoid everyone is who has come in to audition, who's already in the show, regardless of how many people look at them and go. 'Wow.' That's a straight-guy thing as well as a gay-guy thing."
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