Earnestness propels mediocre 'Naked Boys Singing!'

It's easy to resist the Onyx Theatre's "Naked Boys Singing!" -- for about 15 minutes. No one will accuse this 10-year-old off-Broadway mediocrity of being a good show. But it sits well after a few drinks. There are even a couple of poignant moments that sneak up on you.

Seven young, gay men strip and sing. Thirteen authors contribute to a 16-number revue, which deals with the vulnerability of mental exposure.

One of the authors, Bruce Vilanch, is a contributor to the annual Academy Awards show, and that pretty much hints at the quality of the writing here: some bull's-eye jokes surrounded by a multitude of misses.

It's amazing how quickly the novelty of nudity wears off. Director Hank Emerson's cast members (a combination of locals and out-of-towners) appear so unassuming, that they make the wearing of clothes seem a mental hang-up.

What allows this production to take-off is the earnestness and talent of so many of the performers.

Allen Merritt, for example, is stuck with a lame song about his adventures as a naked cleaning maid. Merritt, though, has not only a legitimate voice, but a huge sense of play. Later, he brings surprising depth to a song of lost love. When he runs his fingers over a picture of his ex, you feel the life in that photo.

Nolan Christopher projects a Fanny Brice-lunacy in his role as an eight-day-old baby about to be circumcised. And he's equally infantile as an ailing showgirl with exaggerated headgear that keeps threatening her downfall.

Mark White has a clear-eyed innocence that makes his pizza boy with fantasies believable as well as silly. And Ivan Hardin is equipped with a sensitive, plaintive singing instrument that is in contrast to his hard-edged appearance. When he sings of his longing for the guy next door, he makes the number a paean to unrequited love.

The actors are all attractive, but not Chippendale-chiseled. That makes them more human. It tells us immediately this isn't a mere peek show. Emerson achieves a satisfying ensemble effect, although a couple of the members obviously need extensive vocal work.

The songs gain considerably by the mastery of Spencer Baker on piano. There are some sophisticated lighting effects for such a small stage by Michael Morse, and the simple set (also by Morse) makes clever use of several, singular-colored platforms, and a bead of blue lights strung across a black curtain.

The writers often mistake crudeness for comedy, but in the hands of Emerson and cast, the crudeness is often -- well, often enough -- part of the fun.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.