Oh! Calcutta was a theater revue created by British drama critic Kenneth Tynan. The show consisted of brief erotic sketches and featured nudity. It debuted off-Broadway in 1969 and has been revived off and on ever since, making it one of the longest-running revues in Broadway history. For several years it was also staged in London. The show’s name was based on a pun of the title of a Clovis Trouille painting. The title was “O quel cul t’as!”, French for “What an ass you have!” The painting depicts the tattooed behind of a young woman and was used as a backdrop on the stage.
Sketches were written by Samuel Beckett, John Lennon, Sam Shepard, Dan Greenburg, David Newman, Robert Benton, Edna O’Brien, Jules Feiffer, and Kenneth Tynan. Peter Schickele, Robert Dennis and Stanley Walden composed the music. Jacques Levy directed, and Margo Sappington choreographed. Among others, at various times, the cast included Raina Barrett, Mark Dempsey, Samantha Harper, Patricia Hawkins, Mitchell McGuire, Gary Rethmeier, Nancy Tribush, Margo Sappington, Bill Macy and George Welbes. A film of the stage version was released in 1972.
Oh! Calcutta opens with a slow striptease by the cast. Sketches that follow include a fairy tale ending with a rape; a suite of singers using material from sexy letters to the editor; lovers arguing about experimentation; different generations of swingers clashing; Victorian bondage going awry; and a sex experiment becoming a burlesque. Following the intermission, sketches include nude cast members free-form dancing; a son telling his father what he likes about sex; and a group masturbation falling apart. The finale consists of cast members singing, dancing and stripping and then yelling out comments reflecting what they suppose the audience is really thinking about the revue.
Oh! Calcutta is a sexy, pleasant show. It has a feel reminiscent of 70’s adult films, though the sex is simulated. All the sketches are at least mildly entertaining. It is refreshing to see sex explored in the theater.