Naveen Kumar | New York | News | Review | Theatre

Rock Musical 'bare' Opens Off-Broadway: REVIEW



An exhilarating and affecting rock musical that opened Off-Broadway last night at New World Stages, bare serves up an insightful depiction of emotional truths inherent to the sprawling, messy, and often wrenching experience of adolescence.

3_bareFormerly billed as ‘A Pop Opera’ when it made its world premiere in Los Angeles in 2000 and Off-Broadway bow in 2004, bare galvanized something of a cult following, and has since seen some two dozen productions both regional and international. A highly anticipated and newly revised production arrives Off-Broadway this season under the energized direction of Stafford Arima with choreography by Travis Wall.

With book and lyrics by Jon Hartmere and music by Damon Intrabartolo (and additional songs by Hartmere and Lynne Shankel), the show tackles many of the challenges that anyone with a taste for teen movies or musicals will likely recognize as standard territory—with the obvious exception of a sensitively rendered romance between two teenage boys at its center. The hopes and hazards of young love, the thrills and unexpected consequences of sex and substance abuse, the urgent hunger for validation from friends, parents, teachers, and (in this case) God—familiar stakes because each in our own way, we’ve all been there.

4_bareThe clever hand with which bare brings together the pains and pleasures of being young, and its particular focus on the trials of weathering high school as a gay teen perhaps explain why it has garnered a passionate and loyal following. Though its 2000 world premiere pre-dates several subsequent youth-driven musicals, this latest staging owes much to exceptional recent outings that have made a distinct mark on the landscape, including Spring Awakening and American Idiot, both helmed on Broadway by Michael Mayer.

The scribes present a story that’s alternately witty and quite touching, transforming what was a sung-through opera into a well crafted musical with book scenes that help carve out engaging characters. A virtuosic cast of young performers brings breathable life to a sometimes typical group of high-school students navigating their way through Catholic boarding school.

5_bareThe furtive gay lovers on whom the plot centers—a sensitive athlete able to pass for straight, and a more obvious candidate for class outcast, are played with endearing chemistry by impressive newcomers Jason Hite and Taylor Trensch, respectively. As their clear-eyed sympathetic teacher (with a crowd-riling turn as the Virgin Mary), Missi Pyle (The Artist) doles out bone-dry wit that cracks like a whip.

Though the whole gang rehearsing for a school production Romeo and Juliet lends formula to the plot, it’s a suitable one—bringing to the fore the high and sometimes blinding stakes of young love and the struggle to keep it secret from misguided powers that be. Seamless integration of mobile tech and digital media in both plot and design reflect the production’s keen understanding of their indispensible influence on how young people think about themselves and their relationships.

Ultimately, bare contributes an important voice to a broader conversation about equality and tolerance, all the more compelling because its impact is both visceral and incisive. Rather than hand out neatly wrapped answers to difficult questions about faith and acceptance, the show lays bare the heartbreaking pain of coming of age in a world in which these questions need to be asked at all. 

Naveen Kumar is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has spent close to ten years working in the New York theatre business and recently earned a masters degree in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.You can follow Naveen on Twitter @Mr_NaveenKumar.

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  1. I had a chance to see this in 2004 when I happened to be vacationing in NYC during its brief run. I loved it so much, I went back a second time. Wish I could make it back to see this production.

    Posted by: Kevin_BGFH | Dec 10, 2012 4:00:27 PM

  2. While your at New World, make it a 2-fer & catch Forever Dusty, the Dusty Springfield tribute musical.

    Posted by: mikeflower | Dec 10, 2012 6:05:26 PM

  3. I've been following this since its first run in LA. Great music.

    Unfortunately, none of the links on the website seem to work.

    Posted by: bcarter3 | Dec 10, 2012 6:09:36 PM

  4. Fantastic review, and well-deserved. I saw this a couple of weeks ago while it was in previews and it has stuck with me ever since. A truly heart-breaking and heart-pounding show with phenomenal performances from young actors. I cannot wait to see it again!

    Posted by: Joe E-D | Dec 10, 2012 9:19:08 PM

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with the great review you've given. Just saw the show Dec 3 in preview and it was phenominal. For those that are familiar with bare, be ready for some changes, but nothing that distracts from the ultimate impact that comes from this show. I would highly recommend seeing Jason and Taylor in the primary roles - not only beautiful voices, but they display such believable love and torment that you can't help but be drawn into their world. Definitely one of the highlights of my recent trip to NYC and already planning a return trip to see it again!

    Posted by: JDS | Dec 10, 2012 10:15:40 PM

  6. All these pictures are looking entertaining and I agree with this review.

    Posted by: Dylan Chumleigh | Dec 11, 2012 1:16:42 AM

  7. bare's music is well-written, and much of it quite stirring, but let's hope the changes that @JDS refers to include a re-write of the play's original ending, which entails the suicide of one of the gay characters (really?) and an illogical, unexplained (and un-ironic) "forgiveness" of the Catholic church's deadly homophobia.

    Posted by: | Dec 11, 2012 9:34:33 AM

  8. Walked out at the interval. The book of this musical is truly awful, dated, full of cliched characters and the story is predictable. Like a bad Degrassi episode. Wanted to like it but couldn't. Might play well to a small town audience, but in New York? The performers did their best but couldn't salvage much.

    Posted by: Chris B | Dec 11, 2012 10:38:20 AM

  9. It struck me more as "DeGrassi the Musical," and I found myself cringing in my seat for most of it, though the "Virgin Mary" number was fantastic, as was "Best Friends." If you like high school musicals, you'll enjoy this production.

    Posted by: Dan | Dec 11, 2012 12:15:10 PM

  10. I have to agree with Chris B. The original was probably at the right time, but now is just old news. Loved the Virgin Mary section, but the rest was forgettable.

    Posted by: Steve | Dec 11, 2012 12:24:21 PM

  11. If you think this show is irrelevant at this point in our history then you probably haven't been a student for quite some time. Bullying, peer pressure, and particularly the resonance of technology as the impetus for these societal structures is a real and serious issue. Also, the ending is still intact and rings quite honest and true within the newly written book. I think the review does a great job of portraying the wit and tragedy inherent in this show; there are plenty of hilarious scenes, but in the end, this is a tragic story. From my perspective there is intense irony in the "forgiveness" of the Catholic Church; the show is critical of the religious right throughout, one of the most fascinating aspects.

    Posted by: Joe E-D | Dec 11, 2012 1:43:06 PM

  12. Sounds similar to Todd Almond's "Girlfriend," for which the songs all came from the Matthew Sweet album of the same name.

    Posted by: jimstoic | Dec 11, 2012 7:43:29 PM

  13. I am trying from the first time but the web links are not working as good. all photo are interesting and i just try to collect and store in my disk.

    Posted by: Alex Dumpfree | Dec 14, 2012 9:36:16 AM

  14. At present rock music is entertaining every place on this earth!!!

    Posted by: party planners melbourne | Jan 10, 2013 12:59:36 AM

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