Naked Boys Singing! Censorship Lawsuit Settled in Milwaukee

By Thomas Peter
15 Jul 2010

A censorship lawsuit that resulted from the premature closing of a Milwaukee production of Naked Boys Singing! has been settled.



The Milwaukee Gay Arts Center received a $20,000 check from the City of Milwaukee July 14 as part of the settlement. The lawsuit had been filed on the Center's behalf by the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The Center's production of the Naked Boys revue, an Off-Broadway hit celebrating male nudity and featuring gay content, was closed down by city police in August 2005 after complaints about its content and disputes over whether the theatre's license had been properly paid. A local ordinance required the theatre to obtain the license that needed to be approved by the Common Council of Milwaukee, who were not meeting until September 2005, after the production was scheduled to close.

The recent settlement found the Center exempt from the license requirements because of its status as a non-profit. The city has now changed its licensing forms to make clear that non-profits are not required to obtain a theatre license, although for-profit theatres must still obtain one. No time limit has been placed on the Common Council's approval of license applications from for-profit theatres.

Regarding the disputes over the show's content, Milwaukee Gay Arts Center executive director Paul Masterson said in a statement, "Good theater sometimes challenges convention. The police should not shut down a play because some people find it offensive."

Regarding the licensing disputes, ACLU of Wisconsin legal director Larry Dupuis stated, "Requiring any theater to get a license before putting on a play comes dangerously close to the kind of 'prior restraint' on speech the First Amendment was designed to prohibit. We are pleased that the City has clarified the process so that non-profits will know they are not required to get a license. However, we continue to believe that the City should amend its ordinance to limit the time the City has to issue any theater license. It's too easy for the authorities to just delay giving the permit to performances they don't like."

The Milwaukee production was the fourth production — including previous ones in Provincetown, MA; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Atlanta, GA — of the musical shut down by local police forces.

Naked Boys Singing!'s original 16-song score includes such numbers as "Fight the Urge," "The Bliss of a Bris," "Muscle Addiction," "Nothing But the Radio On," "Members Only" and "Window to Window." The musical comedy revue opened in New York July 22, 1999, after a successful run at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles. The show's contributing writers are Stephen Bates, Marie Cain, Shelly Markham, Jim Morgan, David Pevsner, Rayme Sciaroni, Mark Savage, Ben Schaechter, Robert Schrock, Mark Winkler and Bruce Vilanch. Schrock directed with choreography by Jeffry Denman (The Producers) and musical direction by Stephen Bates, who died in 2003.

The musical revue currently plays in New York at New World Stages at 340 West 50th Street.