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A CurtainUp Review
Bare a Pop Opera
By Jenny Sandman
Bare is a coming-of-age story for two gay teenagers in a Catholic boarding school. Peter, a shy, geeky kid, is deeply in love with the school jock, Jason. Jason is equally in love with Peter, but is still uncomfortable with his burgeoning sexuality and tries to hide it from the world. To add an extra twist, Jason's friend Matt is in love with the school slut Ivy--but Ivy is in love with Jason, and Jason takes that opportunity to "make sure" he's not bisexual. While both Jason and Peter struggle with feelings for each other, they also deal with emotionally distant parents, leading roles in Romeo and Juliet, and religion classes.
Less a musical than an operetta, the show is almost entirely sung. That includes even the classmates' rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet. They sing in confession ("Our shit's none of his business--hell no"!), in chapel, in the locker room ("When confusion is a crime…"), at a rave. Peter is visited by a jive-talking disco version of Mary; Sister Chantelle comforts him in "God Don't Make No Trash" with "It ain't a rainbow without the pink." Even Peter's mother sings her heartache when he comes out to her: & ot;Did I ever know my son at all? Well, now I know too much…"
This sly, raucous show manages to avoid the sugary-sweet ending typical of the genre. Adolescence is traumatic enough without sexual identity crises; Bare explores both sexual identity and its ties to religion with sensitivity and depth, while portraying entirely accurate teenagers. They're just confused kids masquerading under their adopted personas--cynical Goth girl, beautiful blonde jock--and they'll make every adult in the audience cherish their old age. Michael Arden as Peter and John Hill as Jason are the twin anchors of the cast, while Natalie Joy Johnson as Jason's sister Nadia provides most of the comic relief. As an ensemble, the cast is terrific, each with a powerhouse voice. Kristin Hanggi's direction highlights the easy familiarity of a boarding school. The stage is tiny (perhaps intentionally reflecting the inherent claustrophobia of parochial school) but David Gallo's multilevel staging makes full use of the small space and the large cast. A large stained glass cross window oversees all, while colorful, rock show-type lighting provides visual distinction. And for once, the orchestra doesn't overpower the singers. It's not surprising this show was a hit in LA. What's surprising is that it hasn't transferred to New York before now. It may very well become next season's Urinetown; let's hope this energetic, subversive show is able to transfer and bring some sorely needed fresh musical blood to Broadway.
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