I find the social media response to Bare: the Musical to be very telling and pretty ironic. In some ways, the show is getting what it asks for by updating the piece to include texting, mass emailing, and digital photography as an important "character." It stands to reason, then, that those very outlets would be chock full of chatter about this latest incarnation of the show by Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere. The audience the show hopes to attract is having its say on Twitter, Facebook, any number of blogs and even Instagram. As you might guess, opinions are all over the virtual map. The irony is that these reactions are often based on half the story, just as the half truths and the appearance versus reality of events as captured by the social media used by the characters in the show cause similarly impassioned reactions to events in the musical. How many people could possibly have seen BOTH versions of the show at this point? How fair is it to compare a full production to a concept recording? I won't attempt to answer those questions in this review (you can probably guess my feelings about that), nor will I do a comprehensive comparison. Instead, I am going to try to review this as a completely separate production (because it is), evaluating elements on their own, current merit, and then winding it up with a brief impression about how the revisions of this revival compare to the original.
|"A Million Miles from Heaven"|
The Cast of Bare: The Musical
|Gerard Canonico and Elizabeth Judd (center)|
And what about those kids? Well, they are certainly cutting edge as a group. Witness their dress and look (costumes by Tristan Raines, hair and make up by Leah J. Loukas) which is so of the moment, that one wonders if the cast will be dressed in completely new outfits every week of the run. The only hint that these teens go to a Catholic boarding school is the occasional blazer and skinny tie, which are apparently only marginally required. Here, they are allowed some measure of self-expression. And as the adults in the audience will observe, the more each student tries to express their individuality, the more they really are alike. Like all American high schools, this place has its outcasts (self-imposed), its easy girls, its jocks and its geeks; each student is compartmentalized, all while believing they are individuals. It is the angst of these kids and the secrets each harbors that propel this story. Add the presence of bullying, forbidden love and the conflicting need to both conform and be an individual, and you have a recipe for a relatively honest look at the American teenager circa 2012. For the most part, this revised version of the show is very effective to that end.
What really makes this production hum is the superlative cast, from top to bottom, each a triple-threat. An ensemble in every sense of the word, the cast easily moves back and forth from a unified community to cliques with attitude, to friends with a pack mentality to individuals trying to figure out who they are, and back again. Sara Kapner and Megan Lewis (on for Ariana Groover) perfectly capture those self-involved bitchy girls, while Alice Lee and Alex Wyse bring a very welcome sense of humor to their scenes - she's the sweet but dim airhead who just wants to be liked, while he's a Jew in a Catholic school. Both are quite funny and all four bring a lot to each scene where they are "in the background." Much care has been given to make sure that even when these characters are not the focus of the scene, they provide nice subtext. The same can be said for the bad boy jocks (and ultimately the bullies, naturally) - each self-absorbed swagger and hyper-sexualized moment is played to the testosterone-filled hilt by Michael Tacconi, Justin Gregory Lopez and Casey Garvin. What is terrific about all three is that they make much more of what could easily be one dimensional stereotypes.
|"I didn't know who else to turn to..."|
Jerold E. Soloman and Jason Hite
|Barrett Wilbert Weed and Company|
|The star-crossed lovers before |
opening night of Romeo and Juliet
Ultimately, I can understand the need to compare the two versions, but this new "musical" version is so different, I think it justly stands on its own. Neither version is/was perfect - it is still just a tad too pat. But most of the changes work in the show's favor. The addition of book scenes do flesh out the characters and offer a nice break from the amplified angst that singing in a pop opera automatically creates. Most of the new songs work (again, I don't have a song list to work with), especially the dramatic and catchy "Million Miles" the opens the show, the duet with Nadia and Ivy, and the clever pop song about best friends for Peter and Diane, providing much needed humor. (You can bet that kind of silly pop princess tune plays in a constant loop in Dane's head.) And I really loved the song that has replaced "911 Emergency." Less successful is one of the first new songs after the opening that is new - a litany of platitudes in rhyming couplets whose rhymes you can guess before they are sung, and the second act song of reassurance between Peter and Sister Joan. That song itself isn't bad - it fits the role of Sister Joan perfectly as cast, but I miss the power of the soulful "God Don't Make No Trash." The reassignment of songs to different characters and the almost complete change in the character of Nadia work especially well across the board, as I mentioned above with reference to Mr. Hite and Mr. Canonico.
|Jason Hite and Taylor Trensch|
I understand that Bare is still in flux - that further revisions might be forthcoming for future productions. Whether that is the case or not, this version, while not problem free, makes Bare a viable piece of musical theatre. The entire cast and the majority of the score makes this show a must-see for modern musical theatre enthusiasts. And fans of the original, try to see this as a new show. Open your minds - your heart will still be moved.
(Photos by Chad Batka. Click to enlarge each.)