During the crowded Mardi Gras theatre season, many a director will try to get a few extra queer bums on seats with the promise of a few bums on stage.
Gay-themed shows often come with nudity warnings, their producers knowing full well that said ‘warning’ is to most audiences more an invitation.
But in terms of flashing pink bits on stage, one show of the season takes the cake. Premiering at the Seymour Centre on March 14, Naked Boys Singing is exactly what you’d expect: musical theatre-trained actors, nuding up on stage and singing peen-themed show tunes.
The Star Observer sat down with three of the (regretfully fully clothed) cast members on the first day of rehearsal and found them — Nick Gentile, Mitchell Roberts and Tim Carney — remarkably brave in the face of such a daunting prospect.
All seemed surprisingly willing to get their kit off, with only Gentile displaying any trepidation — and even then, not much.
“The first 10 minutes are pretty horrifying, but after that you get used to it,” he said.
“I’ve only recently lost a lot of weight, so my body’s always something I’ve been very self-conscious about. Getting the bravery to do the audition was a big thing for me, but I’m used to it now.”
For Carney, who’s done “everything from full-scale musicals to kids’ musicals,” the audition — in which cast members were asked to sing both clothed and nude — was a “liberating” experience, and he’s expecting the actual production to be even more so.
“We are — pardon the pun — very exposed up there. Particularly for our solos, it’s just us, a spotlight and the audience. It’s actually quite exciting to be able to perform in that way,” he said.
The most challenging aspect, all admitted, had been telling their friends and family what they’d signed up for.
“Unbeknownst to me, my dad told my grandma. I got a call from her saying, ‘What’s this I’ve heard about naked boys singing? Get your act together!’ ” Roberts laughed.
“I explained it all to her and she ended with, ‘Well done then. But I don’t know if I need to come and see it’. ”
This is a nudie show with a pedigree, you see: Naked Boys Singing has developed into something of a cottage industry since its 1998 off-Broadway debut. A Naked Boys Singing film even came out in 2007.
It was this track record that helped persuade the cast to get their kit off in the name of art.
“You look at the proven success of the show. It’s not some random tacky little show that had a three-month run just to flaunt bodies,” Mitchell said. “It’s had 11 successful years off-Broadway. We’re just keeping it alive.”
And these boys are delivering a revamped version of the show, with more of a burlesque, striptease feel than the de-sexed Spencer Tunick-esque productions (two hours of wobbling pink flesh can bore even the perviest among us) seen overseas. Expect to see extravagant, sexy costumes before you get a glimpse of what lies underneath.
“This show is all about the reveal,” Roberts said. “Once it’s full-frontal naked, it gets really sexless and uninteresting quite quickly.
“There’s a lot of subtlety and a slow reveal, which is different from how it’s been done elsewhere.”
The show will tour Australia’s east coast after its run at the Seymour, but before that the cast members have to tackle what will no doubt be one of the oddest nights of their performing careers: March 15 is naked night — for those on stage and in the audience.
Producer/director Jonathan Worsley confirmed that the nude night had been doing a roaring trade in pre-sales — although it did pose a logistical problem for the venue’s cloakroom staff.
“I think [nude night] will be great. When you’re in an ordinary show, it can be nerve-wracking — the audiences can sometimes be judgemental, and you never know whether jokes are going to fly or not,” Gentile said.
“If everyone’s starts on the same page when the curtain opens, it’ll be a really fun show.”
“I’m scared I’ll get so nervous I’ll forget my lines,” Carney admitted. “Somehow, I don’t think picturing the audience in their underwear is going to help.”
INFO: Naked Boys Singing, Seymour Centre, Sydney, March 13 – 17. Seasons in Melbourne and Brisbane to follow – full tour dates at www.nakedboyssinging.com.au