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Fun in the Buff

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Irresistible puns come to mind in writing about “Naked Boys Singing” at the Celebration Theatre. This unabashedly gratuitous and devastatingly amusing gay nudie musical revue features a bevy of gorgeous and prominently displayed men who are as long on talent as they are on--pulchritude.

Oh well, sometimes the best way to deal with temptation is to give in to it. Which is what Robert Schrock must have said when he conceived this show. Of course, populating a stage with nude bodies, while hardly a novel concept, is still risky. If the show’s content doesn’t measure up to its audacity, it invites ridicule.

Fortunately, “Naked Boys” is an exhilaratingly stylish entertainment. The show is as technically precise as any major stage offering. Frank McKown’s lighting, J.P. Duberg’s props and set pieces, and Sherri Grider’s occasional scanty costumes give us big-budget glitz on a shoestring.

The performers are triple threats, whose singing, dancing and acting skills are first-rate. The cast consists of Brian Beacock, Tony Davis, Steve Gideon, Christopher Gilbert, Mike Haboush, Tod Macofsky, T. Bedford Scofield, Trance Thompson and Vincent Zamora. To say that they’re comfortable in their own skins is an understatement. Any hint of self-consciousness among this intrepid crew has been thrown to the winds--along with their clothes.

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Then there’s Schrock’s inspired staging, which elevates the first-act closer, “Jack’s Song” (lyrics by Jim Morgan, music by Ben Schaechter), to the level of high camp. Choreographed by Travis Payne and LaVelle Smith, it culminates in a surreal nude barbecue that is as gross as it is cheeky (there’s that pun problem again.) Schrock and company embrace outrageousness as a birthright, double-daring us not to laugh.

Yet “Naked Boys” isn’t all fun and games. The dehumanization of the AIDS crisis is the subject of Mark Savage’s “Stripped,” forcefully rendered by Thompson. “Kris, Look What You’ve Missed,” lyrics by Schrock, music by Stephen Bates, is a sung monologue, beautifully delivered by Gideon, in which a gay man wistfully addresses a lost love.

Various composers, lyricists and choreographers contributed their efforts. Music director, arranger and accompanist Stephen Bates deserves special credit for blending so many disparate elements into a homogenous whole.

At intervals, the material is disturbingly simplistic, with a troubling whiff of physical elitism. Can nudity really be a “window to the soul” (a recurring theme) if the nude is a dumpy disaster? Is physical perfection a prerequisite for a fulfilled gay lifestyle?

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Be forewarned: This show contains, in Monty Python parlance, plenty of “naughty bits.” However, if you’re in the mood to get goofy and giggle, this is choice fare--whatever your sexual orientation.

BE THERE

“Naked Boys Singing,” Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thurs-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends May 31. $25. (213) 660-8597. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.


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