Nudes Is Good News for Broadway Box-Office

Daniel Radcliffe in promotional stills from the London production of Equus

“Daniel Radcliffe Ready for Broadway – Nude Scene and All”
–(Huffington Post)

“Harry Potter Goes Nude!”
–(CBS News).

“Onstage, Stripped of That Wizardry”
–(The New York Times)

“Daniel Radcliffe Talks About His Broadway Debut – and His Nude Scene”
–(People Magazine)

These are the headlines of some of the many articles that have appeared in conjunction with what is apparently the theatrical event of the decade: Daniel Radcliffe, star of the Harry Potter series of movies, playing the central role in a revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus.

That Radcliffe did the play in London last year and opened last week on Broadway in a transfer of that production would be news enough insofar as the star of one of the most successful franchises in film history is performing live on stage, in the flesh. But here, the phrase “in the flesh” is especially appropriate: Equus famously includes a full-frontal nude scene for Radcliffe in the role of the psychosexually tormented youth Alan Strang, who develops an erotic fixation with horses and then blinds a stable-full of them with a metal spike when his attempt to lose his virginity with a local girl fails miserably.

It’s scarcely an exaggeration to say that Radcliffe’s nude scene has caused as much excitement as would be engendered if Ethel Merman could be brought back to life and signed to star in new Broadway musical. (Of course, that’s not the same situation, since presumably few would want to see her naked.)

Throughout his journey in Equus, from the media circus surrounding the London run to the slightly less breathless coverage of the Broadway engagement, Radcliffe has maintained his equanimity and a great sense of humor about exposing his private parts.

He recently confided in The New York Times that he has been experiencing what he called the “Michelangelo’s David Effect” onstage, explaining: “[David] wasn’t very well endowed, because he was fighting Goliath. There was very much of that effect. You tighten up like a hamster. The first time it happened, I turned around and went, ‘You know, there’s a thousand people here, and I don’t think even one of them would expect you to look your best in this situation.’”

At least since Hair and Oh! Calcutta! in the late 1960s, nudity has been part of the fabric (if that’s the correct word!) of Broadway. For a few decades thereafter, it seemed that men and women were more or less equally represented among onstage nudists – but in recent years, the scale has definitely tipped towards the male.

An informal survey conducted by The New York Times in 2005 determined that in the roughly 25 productions over the previous 15 years that had featured full frontal nudity, approximately 40 men had appeared in the altogether as compared to only about 10 women. There are a number of reasons for this shift, but it’s no doubt primarily due to the fact that gay men and straight women represent a very large percentage of the New York theatergoing audience, and many people in this subset can be expected to reflexively respond to word of onstage nakedness by whipping out their credit cards and calling Telecharge or Ticketmaster.

High-profile cases of female nudity in the theater are certainly not unknown in our time, as witness Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room or Kathleen Turner in The Graduate. Still, when it comes to disrobing for the ticket-buying public, it’s most often the men who soldier forward.

A very short list of recent Broadway productions in which one or more male performers bared all (or most) of their bodies includes Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion, Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed, and the musical The Full Monty. Stanley Tucci was briefly nude in a revival of McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune – oh, and so was his co-star, Edie Falco. Going a little further back, a pre-stardom Jude Law could be seen naked on Broadway in Indiscretions.

Tom Everett Scott and Johnny Galecki in The Little Dog Laughed

It would be unfair to lump all of these shows together, since their nude scenes range from the dramatically chilling, horrifically violent horse-blinding sequence in Equus to the utterly gratuitous nakedness of the actors in Love! Valour! Compassion! And sometimes, nudity is intended simply to express humanity at its most elemental level – as in Hair, which had a very successful Public Theater revival in Central Park this summer. (That production will transfer to Broadway later this season.)


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