Naughty but nice: 'Naked Boys Singing' in Zaandam, the Netherlands

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

I arranged to interview three of the Naked Boys before they went on stage for their sellout show in Zaandam (about 9 km outside Amsterdam). I was slightly concerned that they might already be naked when I arrived, and if so, would I be able to keep my eyes where they should be?

But I needn't have worried. Iwan Dam, Michael Kroegman and Jürgen Theuns turned out to be friendly, funny and fully dressed.

Instant hit
Naked Boys Singing began life in Greenwich Village, New York in 1999, and was an instant hit, spawning productions all over the USA and in 11 countries worldwide, of which the Netherlands is the most recent.

It's an old-style musical revue - the 16 songs just happen to be about the male body and performed in the nude. Each song was translated into Dutch by a different translator; they and the cast worked hard to get the clever lyrics and double entendres of the original just right.

The end product is what you might call 'saucy': there are songs about circumcision, the unpredictable nature of the male member, and the joys of - how shall I put this? - solitary love-making. But there are also songs about love and loss and the sheer pleasure of being naked and unashamed.

Screams
Audiences during the month-long tour of the Netherlands and Belgium were generally around 80 percent female, and could at times get a little overexcited.

"The audience screams because they really don't expect to see eight naked men," explains Iwan. "They expect to see it during the last song or something, but not right away. So it really is a big shock."

Jürgen points out that the show's intention is to be entertaining rather than shocking, but that the audience's reaction depends on where they are:

"In the big cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam you get more gay men in the audience, and they are quieter, more interested in the theatrical element of the whole thing."

"It's always the women who are hysterical", laughs Michael.

Running, jumping and dancing
So how do the boys feel about being completely naked for an entire 90-minute show, complete with running, jumping and dancing (because let's face it, things wobble when you dance)?

"It took a bit of getting used to," says Iwan. "We were a bit fragile around each other at the start, but now we don't even notice we're naked."

"My girlfriend found it a bit strange at first", says Michael," but she soon forgot about it and just enjoyed the show."

Jürgen remembers the very first performance:

"We didn't know what to expect, but the audience went wild. They respected the fact that we were the ones who were naked. They were saying ´Yeah, that's brave.'"

No Chippendales
Soon it was time for me to go and let the boys prepare (whatever that entailed). I emerged into a noisy foyer thronging with hundreds of women and a handful of men. The atmosphere was distinctly giddy.

Within the first minute of the curtain rising, our boys had revealed themselves to us in all their full frontal, naked glory. It was immediately apparent these were no Chippendales - there wasn't an over-pumped, oiled muscle in sight - but that didn't seem to matter. Hysteria ensued.

Poignant moments

Strangely, after a couple of numbers, I practically forgot that these wonderful singers hadn't actually got any clothes on.

The songs and slapstick routines had the audience in stitches, but there were poignant moments too: one man sang about the loss of his lover to AIDS, while another sang a sweet love song to a mystery person glimpsed at a window. You could have heard a pin drop - that is, until a woman at the back decided to loudly declare her admiration for the singer, which slightly ruined the moment.

Naked Boys Singing may not be everybody's cup of tea. But whether or not you are interested in their physical 'assets', there's no doubting the boys' musical talents. So if you find the show playing at a theatre near you - in the US, Japan, Spain, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Africa or Norway - I recommend a visit. And bring your Mum along too.