Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Naked Boys Singing : The international hit musical review. Originally conceived by Robert Schrock. Written by Stephen Bates, Marie Cain, Perry Hart, Shelly Markham, Jim Morgan, Daivd Pevsner Rayme Sciarni, Mark Savage, Ben Schaechter, Robert Schrock Trance Thompson, Bruce Vilanch, Mark Winkler. Directed by Schaun Toohey

Seven naked gay male characters on stage might sound like an evening of peek abo and sexual titillation but this show has very little to do with that. In fact director Shaun Toohey calls this “ a light hearted romp where the actors did not at all have to be naked and you would still have a good show.” It certainly is not about the nudity because the men involved are not supposed to be Greek gods with perfect bodies  But that is the point. The show is a series of sketches about aspects of life…the frustrations, the sadness, the happy moments, the positive and negative experiences which open one’s eyes, which show the difficulties of relationships with some very funny parodies involving male genitalia that is the centre of a lot of attention here. The nakedness becomes a symbol of men’s desire to open their souls and not hide things anymore. They are vulnerable but they are trying to reach the essence of their beings and the unclothed body is the best symbol of that achievement.

Such honesty is nothing recent of course and has been seen in all times as a form of indecency by certain organizations that don’t understand . Take for example, the documentary I saw on CBC last night explaining how the Pope’s of his period were obsessed by Michelangelo’s s nude male figures (his sculptures and his frescos in the Sistine Chapel) and how they arranged to cover all the exposed male parts with fig leaves or even to simply chop them off as soon as Michelangelo died. The film then showed us a whole drawer of chopped penises still in the wings of the Vatican. True or not, it indicates how religion has sometimes shifted its concerns to areas that were not necessarily useful when such murderous wars of religion were being waged around the world in the name of the Church.

Naked Boys Singing is not nearly as heavy as that of course. In fact it is full of self parody and serious reflexion where different musical numbers make various points about human behaviour. There is the hilarious scene of a Jewish Mama and Papa in the presence of a Rabbi, carrying out the “ Bliss of a Bris” , the circumcision ritual on the baby (Tony Bove) – who, in this case is a very grown-up male. Laughing at oneself is a level of sophisticated thinking that becomes an art form, especially when Mel Brooks sinks is teeth into the process. This was not Mel Brooks but some of the inspiration was very close and the singing and choreography were excellent. Another uplifting moment was the the Ode to the Penis (my title) where orchestra director (Douglas Connor) leads his sextet of musical voices into a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan, Bach and various other classical and non classical bits with musical accompaniement on the piano from sources based on the play of evocative wordings and very funny arrangements. Often the music and singing (Window to Window ) carried the day, and with Gordon Johnston as musical director and a musician and composer with a long and illustrious musical history, they could not have made a better choice.

An ensemble number – Muscle Addiction (hunky jumpy boy) pranced along with the men flexng their muscles as they try to get into shape in a gymn for encounters that have nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet..a nice little remark that sets it all in place; or the Perky Porn Star number featuring the spritely Pascal Viens or even the ensemble number Fight of the Urge, something certainly all men must have confronted in their lives, delves more deeply into the preoccupations that trouble gay men about revealing their sexual desire.  These presentations opened , in a most sensitive way, a whole window of personal questions that are not always obvious for the general public and even less obvious for women. In a more deeply emotional tone , the singing of Dale Waterman and Rick Telfer was striking (Window to Window) and it engaged the audience in a moving emotional statement about ones own sense of belonging and having a partner.

The fun, the parody, the sensitivity, the various sources of this stage “romp” were quite wonderful and gave us a deep sense of the diversity of the questions involved in the lives of these men, as well as the obvious musical and acting talents in play, all accompanied by Gordon Johnston on piano.

The fine talent and excellent work by director Shaun Toohey who is often involved in Orpheus Musical Theatre  Productions,  has drawn out the best from everyone, appealing to everyone’s own comfort zone.

Naked Men Singing is an Ottawa premier and a show that will not necessarily appeal to all tastes, but it is a fine evening of performance and a chance to discover the new site Live On Elgin with its cosy bar and intimate atmosphere. A very good evening of a ground-breaking musical awaits you. The show starts at 7h30. It runs from June 15 to 25; 220 Elgin, call (613) 695-5483 for reservations.