Naked Boys Singing
TLA Releasing // R // $22.49 // December 4, 2007
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted December 7, 2007
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Graphical Version
The Movie:
To quote musical theater's reigning genius, Stephen Sondheim, from his 1959 lyric for Gypsy, "You gotta have a gimmick if you wanna get ahead." The quote may be even more a propos considering that Gypsy dealt with the burlesque art of stripping. What a difference almost 50 years have made, though; while Sondheim, Styne and their collaborators made art out of the "gimmick" of Gypsy Rose Lee's indoctrination into the world of nudity (or near-nudity--this was the 50s, after all), Naked Boys Singing offers pretty much nothing else other than the gimmick itself--virtually no songcraft, no real comedy, no cohesive emotional element, and certainly no real art.

The gist of the show is aptly summed up in the opening group number, "Gratuitous Nudity," where the performers prove they have nothing to hide, and go on to reveal it for the following 90 minutes or so. The show is obviously tailored (as it creator details in one of the extras) for gay men, but most self-described "theater queens" I know will only be temporarily distracted by the beefcake on display before they begin to notice the absolute lack of stagecraft. Musical theater purists are also going to cringe at the banality of most of the numbers, and especially the impure rhymes of several, most notably "Robert Mitchum," where Bob's surname is sloppily joined with "close but no cigar" (no innuendo intended) choices like "bitchin'" and "smidgeon." Sondheim these lyricists are not.

The comedy is similarly puerile for the most part, including routines about nude maids, the Jewish rite of the bris (circumcision), and pretty much anything else that focuses on the male genitalia. Sight gags are reduced to the level of a nude conductor keeping a baton tucked between his butt cheeks. Attempts to give the show some deeper meaning and social relevance fall flat, as when one of the singers warbles "Being nude is just another window to the soul." Now that's comedy, though probably not the way they intended, especially when you consider that, according to the credits, the show boasts literally scores of writers (including Bruce Vilanch, whom one hopes wrote the good bits).

The show does perk up slightly toward the end with a trio of more effective numbers, "Kris, Look What You've Missed," an appealing anthem to those lost to AIDS with a Stephen Schwartz harmonic palette, "Muscle Addiction," a Village People-worthy disco number about working out, and especially "The Entertainer," about the only geniunely funny lyric in the entire show, contrasting a performer's stage presence with what's really going on in his mind.

There are either significant sound mastering problems with this DVD, or it really should have been called "Naked Boys Lip-Syncing," as there are many times throughout the performance where the singers' mouth movements do not match the soundtrack, and my guess is the entire show was either pre-recorded or post-looped, which is strange considering there are dialogue sequences, similarly out of phase. There is also no sight of the ubiquitous trapset, the only instrument other than the piano (shown repeatedly) used as accompaniment in the show. A lot of the audience "response" seems similarly piped in and/or augmented for this DVD release. Naked Boys Singing has been a substantial success in its stage incarnation in various touring and regional performances now for some time, so there is obviously an audience for it. This DVD may be welcome to those who haven't been able to catch the show live; I doubt many others will be interested in it.

The DVD

Video:
The enhanced 1.78:1 image is generally fine, though the director, to quote a certain former CBS anchorman, "tarts it up" with various visual effects that actually distract from the performance.

Sound:
Both the standard Dolby and 5.1 soundtracks are of excellent fidelity. There's really not enough potential for separation to make the 5.1 truly outstanding, however--this is a filmed stage performance.

Extras:
A featurette gives the history behind the show's transition from stage to screen, and features an interview with creator Bob Schrock and writer Mark Winkler (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Al Franken as Stuart Smalley). In what may be a DVD first, there's also a promo clip for JustusBoyz underwear, featuring more beefcake in various states of undress, the original theatrical trailer, and information on live performances of the stage version of the show.

Final Thoughts:
Stephen Sondheim, your reputation is secure. At least until the film version of Sweeney Todd comes out.



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