Naked Boys Singing! at Turner Hall
NBS! shines in its reunion show-and-tell musical revue
It was a dark and stormy night in Milwaukee — and muggy to boot. Outside Turner Hall Ballroom stood a small phalanx of protesters with very large, professionally crafted signs informing whomever that homosexuality is a sin. This attention only seemed to delight the producers of the two-night only show of Naked Boys Singing, held to benefit the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center. Andrew Heidke tried to give out show tickets to the soggy demonstrators, who demurred by saying they had a wedding to attend tomorrow so they couldn’t stay long.
The show itself was spartanly attended by both men and women, but the spirit became boisterous inside as the six-man troupe took to the stage formally for the first time in years – since the last successful run at the Bailiwick Theatre in Chicago.
It probably needs to be stated here that I am straight. It’s not that I wouldn’t get the material, which often speaks proudly to the modern gay man’s life and sometimes cheeky attitude. It’s also not that I wouldn’t have an appreciation of the toned male forms, as I come from a visual arts background and have sat through figure drawing classes. But I did wonder how comfortable I was going to be with the whole thing.
In the end (or the front, I suppose), it’s just an organ, for crying out loud. As the cast filed out and revealed themselves during the opening “Gratuitous Nudity” number, their male organs were no more harmful than a gym locker room or historical art sculpture. But it was difficult not to look at the forbidden fruit, any more than you could not notice the trunk on an elephant in the room. It just took awhile to just get used to, which I did. That is, until the cast started kicking up their heels during dance numbers. Then it was like a bunch of animal balloon artists caught in a wind storm.
It was most interesting to note the costuming involved in each number. Occasionally outfits were worn to be taken off in a reveal, but in some they stayed on, and in the case of a number like “Nothing but the Radio On” an “outfit” consisted of hat, scarf, belt with buckle, and boots. That’s it.
About halfway through, it’s not that you forget the nakedness. Each number, set to music that often made me think of bawdier Disney’s Beauty and the Beast numbers, revolves around the subject of male sexuality. But as in all good musical revues, the power and clarity of vocal strength takes over and you feel enlightened. So go see Naked Boys Singing! For the seeming illicit thrill, but stay for the power of song being performed by men with utter abandon.
NBS finishes its limited-run in Milwaukee tonight at Turner Ballroom, with proceeds going the MGAC. Call 414.286.3663 for details or visit http://pabsttheater.org/nakedboyssinging for details.