Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Naked Boys Singing Conceived by Robert Shrock , directed by Sean Toohey, musical Director: Gordon Johnston

Would you believe there’s even a moment of fugal joy in Naked Boys Singing?

It surfaces in an ensemble number with the title of Members Only — and yes, there’s no doubt about the subject matter. But as you listen to the performers moving nimbly through the contrapuntal intricacies of an amusing song, you’re again conscious of the wit and imagination that have gone into the preparation of this musical revue.

You’re also conscious of the affection. There’s no doubt of the primary audience for Naked Boys Singing, but this a show that seems ready to extend its embrace to anyone who goes to see it. And its long runs in major cities suggest that, in its own disarming, sweet-natured way, it is knocking down more than a few barriers.

There are ample displays of naked flesh on view at Live On Elgin. But there is no narcissism. These seven guys are definitely not aspiring to a Chippendales gig. There is a bit of philosophizing about nakedness being a window to the soul, but it’s leavened by moments of self-deprecation. Similar philosophies about nudity were expressed in Hair more than 40 years ago, but Naked Boys Singing seems blessedly immune from the self-referential nonsense of that grossly overpraised musical.

That readiness to engage in self mockery announces itself in the opening number entitled — what else? — Gratuitous Nudity. The sequence achieves more than one purpose. It immediately invites audiences to start getting accustomed to the seven performers who will be popping up over the next 90 minutes wearing nothing but a smile. But it also demonstrates that director Shaun Toohey, the man responsible for the show’s deft staging, and musical director Gordon Johnston are heeding Noel Coward’s celebrated dictum that, if light entertainment is to work on stage, it must be taken seriously.

So it’s important these guys be engaging company, whether clothed or unclothed. They have to give the material their all and remain attentive to its emotional modulations. Cameron Aitken’s amusingly rendered Naked Maid represents one end of the spectrum. A mischievous hymn to the joys of masturbation provides further fun — but the song’s candour is scarcely capable making the earth move in these times, not with Canadian icon Galt McDermott having composed an ode to oral sex in his score for Hair long before most people in this cast were even born.

In contrast, Dale Waterman and Rick Telfer are making a more serious statement in the deeply affecting Window To Window. This one is about the need for real meaning in gay relationships, and the tragedy of opportunities squandered. There’s also Tony Bove expressing an aching sense of loss in the plaintive phrases of Kris, Look What You’ve Missed.

The idea for this show was conceived by Robert Shrock who then collaborated with 12 other colleagues, some female, in creating the material. If some of it is predictable — for example, a strutting Pascal Viens’s mock salute to the porn industry — other segments come delightfully out of left field. An undoubted highlight is The Bliss Of A Bris. Here, Tony Bove, Pascal Viens, Douglas Connor and Maxim David have some unorthodox fun with that most orthodox of rites — circumcision. Then there’s the

underlying glee of Robert Mitchum in which an impish Douglas Connor leads his pals in a chorus of praise to one of the most macho figures in Hollywood history.

This engaging show is not without irony.

Naked Boys Singing

Conceived by Robert Shrock

A Tototoo Production

Live! On Elgin June 15 to 25

Director: Shaun Toohey

Musical Director: Gordon Johnston

Assistant Director: Kodi Cannon