Friday, December 21, 2012

theatre review BARE, Off Broadway, December 13

The musical Bare, that just opened Off Broadway, is a show that has been around for about ten years now.  While there have been several other productions in the US, this production is the first one to open in NY Off Broadway as an open ended run.   This is also an updated version of the show with numerous changes made to bring the story to current times as well as add a large amount of dialogue that was missing in the previous "rock opera" version of the show.  While this updating was beneficial, and the added dialogue makes the more traditional musical more accessible, Bare is still a show that tells a story we've pretty much all seen before.  And, the overly amplified and at various times screaming pop music detracts from the several songs in the show that are excellent musical theatre character driven songs.  Still, Bare is a good musical, it just isn't a great one.

Bare is the story of two high school boys who are in love.  The fact that they attend a Catholic High School and one of the boys is a semi-closeted nerd and the other a closeted jock only adds to the drama.  Add to the mix a straight couple who have their own issues, including the girl of that couple falling for the closeted jock, drug use in teenagers, the views of Catholicism on homosexuality and your usual teen angst and you have two hours of teen drama that, as I said before, we've pretty much seen before in various after school specials, movies of the week and "special" episodes of tv dramas.  

Taylor Trensch and Jason Hite
While Taylor Trensch and Jason Hite are quite effective as Peter, the nerd and Jason, the jock, either both of them were having a slightly off night vocally or they weren't exactly cast for their soaring vocal abilities.  They are very effective in their portrayals of these two lost boys who find themselves when they find each other, I just wish their voices were more up to handle the challenges of the pop rock score. 

And while most of the rest of the supporting characters were one dimensional, mainly due to the book of the show and not the actors, I really liked Barrett Wilbert Weed who plays Jason's drug dealing sister, Elizabeth Judd as Ivy who had some scandal in her past that made her transfer schools and Gerard Canonico as Matt, who is in love with Ivy and hopes that she is really in love with him.  Missi Pyle as Sister Joan, the one compassionate teacher at the school was quite effective not only in this part of a caring and thoughtful teacher but also as the "dream" Virgin Mary who comes to answer Peter's "911" call.   Pyle was able to handle the demands of the score but even Wilbert Weed, Judd and Canonico struggled a bit, which makes me believe the casting for the show was more focused on finding actors who can sing then singers who can act.
Barrett Wilbert Weed and the cast
Damon Intrabartolo composed the score for the show with book and lyrics by Jon Hartmere.  Lynne Shankel also contributed additional music.  There is much to like in the score with various styles of music and some touching ballads and duets but again, several of the songs have the ensemble screaming their lungs out with most of the lyrics unintelligible.

Stafford Arima directs this production and it is interesting that he decided to direct this show considering earlier in the year he directed the off Broadway production of Carrie, which is also a show set in a high school with plenty of religious overtones.  Arima manages to keep the action moving and focused as well as effectively uses the set in staging the various locales of the show, but I wish he had found a way to better focus the parts of the show where the cast is basically just screaming out the lyrics.

I did like the set design by Donyale Werle, it was simple, yet effective with a couple of moving walls to signify the various rooms at the school.  The use of projections by William Cusick was also a nicely dramatic and theatrical element and quite effective in the ease of showing pictures of the cast since several photos they've taken for school projects figure in to the plot. 

Bare is one of those musicals where there are about six or seven really good songs surrounded by others that are just so-so.  With two leads and a talented ensemble, a nice set design and serviceable direction it manages to effectively get across the message behind the issues surrounding the teenage characters in the show.  I just wish there was less screaming and slightly better singers in the cast.

Official Show Site

Performance highlights from the show:

"Are You There?" Gerard Canonico and Taylor Trensch perform at Broadway on Broadway:

Press rehearsal:

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