Most actors preparing to go onstage exercise their voices, do some stretching or Zen out with peace and quiet. The unusual high-intensity warm-up for “A Clockwork Orange,” however, could rev up Floyd Mayweather for his next pay-per-view.
Jonno Davies, the show’s 25-year-old lead, urged his castmates on through jumping jacks, squat thrusts, burpees, dips, push-ups, biceps work and other exercises, with no rest in between. Then came yoga poses to cool down, as the Foo Fighters blared in the background.
Just two hours later, Mr. Davies, as the ultraviolent teenager Alex, would be leading the gang in onstage rapes and beatings in the theatrical adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s classic 1962 novel, which opens in New York on Monday. The 90-minute show, directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, made its debut in 2012 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with later runs in Australia, Norway, Singapore and London.
Now Alex, who unmercifully pummels his way through young adulthood for sport before eventually finding that his angry impulses have been conditioned out of him, and his fellow denizens of the Korova Milkbar have arrived Off Broadway.
The most taxing part of being in the all-male cast may be the training. But the results? Sculpted physiques straight out of Men’s Health magazine.
As the only cast member to have been in the show before, Mr. Davies is the de facto trainer. Possessing a crisp British accent and a wealth of knowledge about how to get in shape, he gives out instructions and his castmates follow without hesitation. At this Friday workout, Mr. Davies was offering pointers on form.
“The warm-up totally brings us together,” he explained in a less sweaty moment before a rehearsal. “It gets us right where we need to be. You can’t go into that opening number with just a little stretch here and there.”
Ms. Spencer-Jones said that the training is not just a matter of showing off a fit cast.
“Physique is second to me, really,” she said. “Alex makes a point in the book of saying as a young man, you should be the best version of yourself that you can be. And certainly Jonno’s translation of that is: ‘Don’t let your body go to waste when it’s in its prime.’”
The play’s vividly physical displays of sexuality and violence (shirts? what shirts?) are complemented by a contemporary soundtrack that includes David Bowie, Muse and, in a nod to the novel, modern-day versions of lovely Ludwig Van (Beethoven). It’s not a musical, but there are complicated, intense, erotically charged choreographed fight scenes that require the cast to be in top shape to get through the show night after night.
Ms. Spencer-Jones, 30 and a Liverpool native, said that the idea of casting only men came from what she called “a classical point of view.” She had been mainly working on Shakespeare as the artistic director of a theater company called Action to the Word, which she created in 2008 in London, and the pool of actresses she was working with was small.
But, she argues, there was also an artistic reason.
“The women in the novel are dehumanized and faceless and sort of stripped away of their complexity,” Ms. Spencer-Jones said. “I wondered how far I could explore that by not having them.”
The sets and costumes are minimal to keep the audience’s focus on the script’s challenging language — “Nadsat” is the slang Burgess developed for characters in the novel — and the casual ruthlessness of its characters: Alex, Dim, Pete, Georgie and more.
Mr. Davies has deftly inhabited the Alex character for three years. When he first joined the cast, he said he was “skinny as hell” and had no idea what it would require. He dedicated himself to fitness and healthy eating.
“When I saw this, I said, ‘I know how topless I’m going to be,’” Mr. Davies said. “And I don’t want to be onstage thinking about my body and not looking good because that’s half of my energy being taken away from the story.”
Now, thanks to the training regime, Mr. Davies and the other cast members look like they belong in a professional wrestling ring. Matt Doyle, one of the new additions to the cast and a veteran of Broadway shows like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “War Horse,” recently became certified as a physical trainer, as a way to supplement his income between acting gigs.
“When the audition came around and we had a workout as part of it,” he said, “I thought, ‘This is actually a really wonderful way to tie together all of my passions.’ I’ve never done a piece that could really be strictly called physical theater. And I’ve never done so much movement onstage.”
Ms. Spencer-Jones said she was committed to mounting the play in a way that was faithful to Burgess’s writing, rather than the 1971 film version by Stanley Kubrick, a classic in its own right. She is now in talks to develop an all-female version in London — another opportunity for her to pay tribute to a book she fell in love with as a teenager.
“It’s 90 minutes of worship to him really,” Ms. Spencer-Jones said of Mr. Burgess.
Will Carr, deputy director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, said that the visceral production would have excited the novelist, who died in 1993.
“It doesn’t pull any punches and the physicality is a big point of it,” Mr. Carr said. “Its treatment of sexual violence is as powerful as the film. And the fact that it is all male gives you a new perspective on that.”