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Bare Buns on Broadway

Wilhelm Disbergen

All over Broadway and in London’s West End, men are baring their flesh in theatres. On Broadway, two shows are currently running that cater for the scopophilic gay audience. The first is a musical version of the film The Full Monty, and surprise, surprise, another musical revue entitled Naked Boys Singing in which they do exactly what the title purports.

Across the Atlantic in the West End, Matthew Bourne has also put together a homoerotic ballet and this time the sexuality is not subliminal like his all-male Swan Lake, but blatantly overt. The show is called The Car Man and is set in a mechanic’s shop in a forgotten Mid-Western town in America where wind blows in more than just tumbleweeds. The manly dancers are covered with grease and grime and jostle each other for the affection of their adoring girlfriends. This is when the main protagonist (Adam Cooper — as seen in the final sequence of the film Billy Elliot) arrives. He is strikingly good looking and clad in very tight-fitting jeans. A young mechanic, not so obviously gay, is immediately smitten with him and it is through this central tension that the plot develops. In this production there are moments of marvellous revelation (a group shower scene where almost everything is bared, and a very “Titanic” moment where a hand appears in the window of a very steamy car scene, only to be revealed as two guys fucking). The evocative musical score of Bizet’s Carmen is used to great effect and emphasises the sultry nature of the production.

Broadway’s The Full Monty is another British phenomenon that has been given the American once-over, and like the Channel Four hit Queer as Folk about Manchester’s gay life, this production too, fails in its Trans-continental make-over. The producers felt that the Glaswegian setting of the original film would have been too alien for an American audience and thus transposed the milieu to a contemporary Buffalo, New York. The boys are once again hard-up factory workers desperate to do almost anything. Buddy Walsh, played by Dennis Jones, is a professional stripper and an out and out homosexual (with to-die-for abdominals) and it is through his coaxing that the gang decide to start stripping. His flapping antics, however, are the lesser focus to the discerning gay audience member. As in the film, the true gay romance comes from the two most unexpected members of the strip club. Apart from a few outstanding moments (The Wall Street Guy’s strip with the strategically paced cellphone) the production fails to impress. The music is hummable but eminently forgettable.

This brings me to the Naked Boys Singing — an off-Broadway production in a smallish theatre, where the actors (or boys) do sketches that reflect and parody gay life. From the opening number, fittingly entitled “Gratuitous Nudity”, to the heartbreakingly honest rendition of a song called “Kris, look what you’ve missed”, the sketches encompass the entire spectrum of a gay experience with ample humour (not sarcasm) thrown in for good measure. The guys are completely nude from the start of the show, and sitting in the front row, one only needs to stretch out a hand for a good helping of nuts. Although this seems to most to be the selling point and main attraction of the production, the highly capable and skilled actors/singer provide the audience with more than the expectations they might have arrived with. The nudity soon loses it’s “a-piel”, and it is then that the audience can focus on the ample vocal and acting talent also on display. “Naked Maid”, “The Entertainer” (a delectable striptease), “Bliss of a Briss” (Slightly Jewish?) and “Perky Little Porn Star” are numbers that reverberate long after the show’s finale. In this production the quality and not the quantity allows the production to flourish (although one actor obviously felt the need to rejuvenate his member before each of his entrances!). The nudity, in my opinion, is a mere sales gimmick — something that makes the show stand out. It may bring in punters with lewd expectations, but leaves them with more than mere titillation (as is the case with The Full Monty).

Is it not time that South Africa followed suit? Is there no theatre producer out there that can see the merit in catering for a specific audience without necessarily degrading either the performer or the experience to that of a strip or sex show?

When I spoke to Colin Law (producer of Mercury Rising, Birdyand Elaine Page at the Superbowl) he mentioned that the reception Jonathan Harvey’s gay adolescent love story Beautiful Thing had in Cape Town was a mutter from the audience as the lights went down on a very intimate first kiss between the boys. Although I wouldn’t have raunched it up for the world, the fact that the audience verbalised their interest in something more risquť and overt, means that the market for meat (in the most modest of terms) exists and should be tapped. To provide an audience with what they want and possibly giving them more than they expected, should be the motto of a theatrical experience.

In my interview with NataniŽl he was quick to point out that the artist should cater for what his audience wants. Only then would theatre once again become successful and perhaps even flourish. According to him the public sees more nowadays (DSTV et al.) and subsequently expects more as well. Is it not time that producers and artists alike stopped underestimating the public and gave them what they want? It may turn out to be both revealing and profitable.

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