Rock Musical 'bare' Opens Off-Broadway: REVIEW
BY NAVEEN KUMAR
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.
Formerly 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.
The 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.
The 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.