The GOP vs. Off-Broadway

Hollywood may dazzle the world with its cinematic special effects, but New York thinks it is the nation's real capital of culture. It has the art galleries, the opera, the jazz clubs, the great publishing houses, and most of all, the theater.

New York is trying to offer this cosmopolitan cornucopia to the arriving delegates of (as well as the ragtag armies of professional protesters to) the Republican National Convention. But some productions aren't exactly on the Grand Old Party wavelength. The producer of an off-Broadway musical called "Naked Boys Singing" is accusing the Republican National Committee of "censoring" the entertainment that otherwise would be available to convention-goers.

The adults-only musical - starring eight naked men and plenty of homosexual vibes - was among the shows offering discounts to convention-goers though the New York City Visitors & Convention Bureau. But a few days ago, the show was dropped from the list of discounted theatrical offerings. Using a very elastic definition of "censorship," the producers believe that canceling the coupon on the nudie-boy show amounts to a First Amendment violation of some sort.

Martian Entertainment, the show's producer, charged the convention's Committee on Arrangements refused to offer the show's discount to delegates and "asked that the show be removed" from New York City's official tourism website. Carl White, the show's general manager, complained "I find their actions discriminatory, and morally and ethically reprehensible. He also complained that the RNC Committee on Arrangements did not return phone calls requesting an explanation of "why they felt it necessary to protect conventioneers from a musical comedy."

Only in the topsy-turvy world of off-Broadway can an effort to depress the audience numbers for a grotesque nudie-boy show be classified as a "morally reprehensible" action.

"Naked Boys Singing" is billed by its producers as "the little naked show that could," has been presented off-Broadway for over 2,100 performances. It is now in its sixth year, making it one of the top 10 longest running off-Broadway shows. (Producers boast the show has outlasted other pelvic productions, like "The Full Monty," "10 Naked Men," and "Puppetry of the Penis.") The show features a score of campy songs, including "Gratuitous Nudity" and "Perky Little Porn Star." It also has a circumcision number called "Bliss of the Bris." It's best categorized as part of the gay subculture, proudly outside the mainstream of cultural sanity. Creator Bob Schrock admits the audiences are largely gay and proudly proclaims, "I've had producers ask me to de-gay the show, and I've refused."

The show's producers protest too much. They're no doubt looking for a little extra scandal to keep the attendance flowing, even as they're smugly enjoying the idea that they're just too "hot" for blue-haired Republicans to handle. The show's website wallows in a predictable New York Times review that the show "isn't for everybody - especially sweet Aunt Rose from Hooterville, unless she's partial to symbolic re-creations of masturbation and crude terms for it."

Pardon me, but "sweet Aunt Rose" may be the more sophisticated consumer to see beyond the childish novelty that absolutely everything's more entertaining with "full-frontal outrageousness,"or that our most profound reflections on our humanity come in campy songs about genitals.

Delegates will also miss by a matter of days New York's "International Fringe Festival," the annual collection of bizarro stage plays, with titles like "Assyrian Monkey Fantasy," this one from an exiled gay Iranian playwright who performs his confessions of a "Latter-Day Temple Prostitute." And then there's his story of an illegal alien in Brooklyn who "fetishizes Ernest Hemingway." The list of weirdness on stage just goes on and on.

These nutball dramatists also have a political message: Jesus thinks it is George Bush who is crazy. Delegates will miss the opportunity to choose between the play "Apocalypse: Book One," in which "Fed up with the deceptions of Dubya, Jesus Christ runs for president," and the play "Dementia Presidentia," in which "The President has gone crazy. He has targeted American cities for nuclear destruction, ordered the FBI to investigate dissenters, and dances with Jesus. The Vice-President has a plan but the President's new Chief of Staff, Jesus, has a better idea."

I wonder if the play ends with Jesus taking the entire Cabinet to see "Naked Boys Singing." Don't think anything's out of the question on a stage in New York City.