Regional Reviews: Chicago
Bailiwick Arts Center Celebrates
Bailiwick's Art Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and Artistic Director David Zak has been with Bailiwick since its founding in 1982. The current Bailiwick repertory includes the first year anniversary celebration of the hit show Naked Boys Singing. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the crowd who packed the Arts Theatre at a special celebration and performance on August 26, this show deserves to run another year - or more - at Bailiwick.
Naked Boys Singing is a silly bit of theatre fluff staged as a musical revue and featuring a dozen or so men alternating roles to prove that "in this show there is no plot, so we will let it all hang out." Obviously written with an innocent gay subtext, the performers, ranging in all sizes and shapes (but not one effeminate or ultimately gorgeous), have no shame in stripping down to the basics and engaging in some musical skits and numbers from the frivolous to the very mellow. There is a simple innocence that the opening number, "Gratuitous Nudity," explains, and what follows is a delightful romp, stomp, strut, and mince in some very funny skits conceived by Robert Schrock and written by a team of writers including David Pevsner, Mark Savage, Shelly Markham and Bruce Vilanch.
The show is a combination of the Village People in the YMCA scene in Can't Stop the Music (which I love and cherish), a bad orchestration of the frustrations of the characters in Queer as Folk, and some of the raunchiness suggested in the The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It isn't subtle, but it is ultimately refreshing. The cast seems to be having so much fun, and the music is so clever and the lyrics inventive, that one can forget that the players are totally nude but still notice that they are having a "hoot" doing what they're doing. The packed audience here, seemingly comprised of gays, mixed, straight, bi's and just happy theatregoers, cheered the cast on with every number.
There is some delicious satire on gay and straight lifestyles, but the humor is never offensive nor blatant. I love the sharpness (pardon the pun) of "Bliss for a Bris," the self-adoration in "Perky Little Porn Star," the plain joy of the well staged "Pizza Boy," and the solemnity of "Window to Window."
The cast in this production is outstanding. This is truly an ensemble show but Scott Thompson, who is the Voice Captain and plays numerous roles, is a joy to watch on stage because he really appears to enjoy what he is doing, whether clothed, semi-clothed or just plain naked. John Cardone is wonderful as the mincing S/M who worries about his mother in "Skokie" (a local reference) while he goes up or down in his career. The other cast members play a variety of roles with life, intensity and not the least bit of embarrassment.
Director David Zak and Musical Director Robert Ollis are to be commended for bringing this show to the Bailiwick's small stage. A similar effort, Pageant, was imported from London last year and failed to make it here in the Windy City because it was performed at the Black Orchid in Piper's Alley, too huge a setting for the intricacies of that type of show.
Naked Boys Singing seems to have the right kind of mirth and special feeling that just keeps the audience plain ol' entertained. The show moves at a brisk pace, and the lighting, costume design and sound keep it moving so that it never drags. A special mention should be made of Robert Ollis, pianist and Musical Director, who seems to be having as much fun as the cast.
As a special treat at the anniversary performance, there was a pre-show "Clothed Boy Cabaret" featuring five of the original cast members, each performing a special number. What a wonderful way to begin this production's first anniversary celebration!
Balliwick Arts Center has extended its production of Naked Boys Singing through December. Future shows include the world premieres of Georgia Tom by McKinley Johnson and Dutch Love by Claudia Allen.
The theatre is located at 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, Il. Tickets for this show and future shows are available at (773)-883-1090 or by visiting www.bailiwick.org.