Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Aida
Bare: A Pop Opera is the story of two high school boys who are in love. The fact that they attend a Catholic boarding school and one of the boys is a closeted loner and the other a closeted popular jock only adds to the drama. There are also various other teenagers who have their own issues, including an overweight teen and a girl who falls for one of the closeted boys. Can these teens bare their souls and let their truths come out, or should they continue to keep them hidden away? The school is putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet and all of the main characters are cast in the play. This adds an interesting and intriguing parallel between the theme of forbidden love which is present in both works. With the inclusion of drug use in teenagers, the views of Catholicism on homosexuality, and your usual teen angst, we have two hours of teen drama that has, unfortunately, already been covered previously in various after school specials, movies of the week, and "special" episodes of TV dramas.
While the subject material may not be that original, there is much to like in the score, with music by Intrabartolo composed and lyrics by Jon Hartmere. There are various styles of music, some touching ballads and duets, and a number of memorable songs. But with only a little dialogue and around 40 back-to-back numbers, the show does run a bit long, with several repetitive moments and some confusion in the plot caused by the entire show being sung.
Bare premiered in 2000 and had short runs in both Los Angeles and Off-Broadway. While it never really became a hit musical with a successful run, it is something of a cult classic. An open-ended run Off-Broadway in 2012 included numerous changes to bring the story to current times as well as add a large amount of dialogue that was missing in the previous version. It also featured significant changes to the score. But that production paled in comparison to the original version and closed fairly quickly. Nearly Naked's production is of the original pop opera version of the show.
Dering's direction keeps the action moving and focused and he effectively uses the fairly simple set design by Paul Wilson and Brett Aiken to quickly establish the various locales of the show. While not everyone in the cast has an incredible singing voice, they all do quite well with the wide-ranging score, thanks to Curtis Moeller's skilled music direction.
Cole Brackney Wandelear and Brandon Hayes are effective as Peter, the introspective loner, and Jason, the popular boy, respectively. They present clear portrayals of these two lost boys who find themselves when they find each other, yet don't know quite how to deal with "coming out," as they are afraid of the potential ramifications. Both actors exhibit the appropriate levels of fear, concern and pain in their well thought out portrayals and we can immediately feel the attraction the characters have to each other.
While most of the supporting characters are one dimensional, Dering's cast all work well to create nuanced individuals. Alyssa Lucero and Johnna Watson are excellent as Jason's overweight sister Nadia, and Ivy, the girl who is in love with Jason, respectively. Both have superb singing voices that excel on their many songs. Shawn Wong is very good as Matt, the boy who is in love with Ivy and hopes that she is in love with him, and Sky Donovan does well as Lucas, the drug dealing teen. Donovan's white boy rap song is both hilariously bad and spot on perfect. The three adult actors in the cast all create appropriate authority roles. Charlotte Strayhorne is Sister Chantelle, the incredibly dominant teacher who doesn't let the kids get away with anything, but shows compassion at an appropriate moment. Strayhorne is quite effective not only in her ability to portray both the bossy teacher who can also be thoughtful but also as the "dream" Virgin Mary who comes to answer Peter's "911" call. Dave Ray evokes the appropriate non-committal stance of the Father at the school who never truly gives the kids the advice they need, while Kristi Rice is exceptional in showing the struggles that Peter's mother endures when faced with the truth of her son.
Bare has a simplistic rawness and freshness to it along with plenty of honesty in both its lyrics and its characters as well as an intriguing plot. While it is a good musical, with the few shortcomings in the script and score, it just misses being a great one. The talented cast and efficient direction allow Nearly Naked Theatre's production of Bare: A Pop Opera to effectively portray the provocative message behind the troubling personal concerns and sexual issues surrounding the teenage characters in the show. It is a moving production that touches upon the hardships and pain of love and suffering, but ultimately on the enduring strength and hope that tragedy often brings.
Bare: A Pop Opera runs through June 17th, 2017, with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre at 100 E. McDowell in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling (602) 254-2151 or at nearlynakedtheatre.org
Music and Book by Damon Intrabartolo