BWW Interviews: Glory|Struck Productions' BARE: An Inside Look
Thirteen years after bare, the pop opera, began its journey, bare, the rock musical, returns to Los Angeles. The glory|struck production is set to open at the Hayworth Theatre September 6 (with a preview performance on September 5). Written by Jon Hartmere (book & lyrics) and Damon Intrabartolo (book & music), it is the coming-of-age story of a group of high school seniors at a Catholic boarding school, each struggling with his or her sexuality, religion, and relationships. In this article, producers Topher Rhys and Jamie Lee Barnard, music director Elmo Zapp, and director Calvin Remsberg take a look at the process of putting the revival together and what it means in the face of today's continuing social issues.
DIRECTOR'S VISION: Director Calvin Remsberg has loved bare since he first heard bits and pieces of its score in 1999 and saw the original production. "I couldn't get over the powerful story of love, Peter's battle for self-acceptance, Jason's troubled self-image and uncertain decisions, all against the backdrop of a Catholic boarding school. It was way ahead of its time, and if it sounds or seems a bit like Spring Awakening, it is because it came first, predating Spring Awakening by several years.
Remsberg says directing bare is especially significant for him. "I wanted to be involved in the original production, but the producers opted to go with the brilliant Kristen Hanggi. So it was with a great deal of surprise and gratitude that I was given a second chance to put my stamp on this material. I wanted to create a world in school that showed the difficulties of the students trying to come to some understanding of their own blooming sexualities while constantly being shamed by the oppressive nature of Catholicism.
I have used a bit of one of Peter's lyrics, 'navigate this maze,' to inform my staging, using scenery that often creates a maze. These kids go down many pathways, often meeting dead ends, and having to retrace their steps to find a different way. Some of them make it out in the end, but never unscathed. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say it is a very eventful spring at Saint Cecilia's Academy."
He adds that he "couldn't have asked for a better, more talented cast than I have for this show. AND how lucky was I when the irreplaceable Stephanie Andersen agreed to reprise her original role as Sister Chantelle, or when John Griffin contacted me and suggested himself to play the Priest, having originated the role of Jason. It seems very full circle to me, and I like the serendipity of that!"
MUSICAL PERSPECTIVE: To achieve his musical vision for bare, music director Elmo Zapp has modernized the show's sound by updating the orchestrations, essentially making the pop opera into a rock musical. He says, "The melodies and music are so beautiful, and express so many emotions for these characters, but the music was written over thirteen years ago. To help appeal to a modern demographic, I am making our show a little more rock guitar based, removing the synthesizer effects in the original score, adding drums where they weren't before, and changing the feel of a beat in key places. Intimate moments are softer and bigger parts louder and heavier.
One thing that really helps is choosing the right instrumentalists to convey that style - a violin instead of a flute, guitar instead of keys. On some songs, we might not be changing anything, but because of the style of the players, it'll sound heavier and more exciting. I've also applied this to the vocals, particularly in the big ensemble numbers. We have exceptional vocal talent, and the original two or three part harmonies just can't contain them. We give them a little more to work with.
Composer Damon Intrabartolo was truly an innovator and he did a brilliant job of keeping the same themes throughout the piece for his main five characters. From beginning to end, you hear the same recurring musical and vocal themes for Ivy, Jason, Peter, Nadia, and Matt. And not only does he keep this consistent throughout the score, but he masterfully places them to pique emotions throughout the piece.
When Nadia sings to Jason at the end of 'Promise' she sings a variation of her 'Quiet Night at Home' theme from the first act. Matt's solo theme bookends the show in both the opening song, 'Epiphany,' and the closing number, 'No Voice.' My favorite one is the 'Dear Jason...' melody in 'No Voice,' which is repeated several times throughout the score, used as foreshadowing without giving the big ending away. It's brilliant."
Zapp adds that many of the bare cast members are artists outside of theatre. "We have a number of singer/songwriters and pop artists that are usually only used to singing with a band and a mic stand in front of them so I use this to my advantage. For instance, when I first started working with Lindsay Pearce, who plays Ivy, she began singing her songs fairly by the book. The best way I could explain the style I wanted was, 'act the show like Ivy, sing the songs as Lindsay.' I encourage all my singers to do the same. This allows them creative freedom and experimentation. It connects them more to the music. Every single person in this show is a superb vocal talent and I think the best result stems from allowing them to explore the melody as themselves, and to not confine them to the page. After all, the motto of the show is 'Hear My Voice.' I want the audience to experience these songs as if the characters were front men and women of their own rock band."
TIMING A REVIVAL: Producers Topher Rhys and Jamie Lee Barnard felt this was the perfect time to bring bare back to an L.A. audience. "There has been major progress in the fight for equality and acceptance since the show was last here thirteen years ago, but we still have a long way to go," Rhys explains. "bare has a very important message and we hope that will engage our audience and inspire them to make a difference."
"When we first signed on to produce the commercial revival of bare in Los Angeles," he says, "we toyed with the idea of incorporating elements from some of the revised versions, while remaining true to the storyline of the original. But we realized that this story didn't need to change. It is just as charming, heartbreaking and moving as it's always been and, since it is a quintessentially LA show, we wanted to bring back the version that locals knew and have been waiting for.
The heart of the show is a group of teenagers on the brink of adulthood looking for themselves - looking for answers - and that struggle spans generations and speaks volumes. It's exciting that we get to bring this story home to fresh eyes, and that gives us the opportunity to evolve the piece to better serve our modern-day audiences. Staying true to the author's intention allows us to adapt it in a much more organic process rather than updating it or outright changing it."
Barnard adds, "So many people can relate to the struggles these characters go through - from feeling stifled and hopeless, to feeling alone and voiceless - we all at one point or another have wanted people to hear us and see us for who we really are. These are things we all deal with, both as children and adults, and people of all ages can find a part of themselves in each of the characters. Because these are our friends: Nadia, Peter, Jason, Ivy, Matt. They are us. They are the people we love. They are the people we want to be there for.
We've been given an opportunity to breathe new life into these roles. For example, we definitely wanted Nadia, who is arguably the most interesting character in the piece and the one with the most heart, to evolve. Yes, she has body image issues, but her anger should come from a more complex place than something as skin-deep as physicality. Today, every girl has insecurities and struggles with beauty and their body images. Some, like Nadia, have been bullied their whole lives for it, and that should have a bigger psychological effect. Otherwise you risk lessening the impact of these issues."
"Above all, our vision at glory|struck is to create a different brand of theatre," Says Rhys. In LA, some of the best art is found where you least expect it. People are performing in warehouses, and in bars, and we think theatre should be no different because LA is also a music community, built on a generation of rock and roll. We want to bring theatre back to our concert-loving roots: youthful, guitar-driven and loud. And that allows us to give a different spin on the music. 'One Kiss' becomes not only a cat-and-mouse between Ivy and Jason, but between two acoustic guitars. Classic songs like 'Are You There?' have heavier orchestrations. Numbers like 'Epiphany' and 'Confession' have amped up vocal lines.
When you walk into the Hayworth, from the moment the lights go down and the first lick of music hits the monitors, we want to evoke the feeling you get stepping into an East Village bar seeing your favorite band on stage. There's something arguably more compelling and intimate in that. Just you, the vocalists, and these songs in front of you. It's much more universal."
Starring Payson Lewis (NBC's The Sing Off, Victorious), Jonah Platt (The Office), Lindsay Pearce (Glee, The Glee Project), Katie Stevens (American Idol), Shelley Regner (Pitch Perfect), Nathan Parrett (NBC's The Voice), Caitlin Ary, Kelsey Hainlen, Casey Hayden, Christopher Higgins, Reesa Ishiyama, Harrison Meloeny, Katherine Washington, Alissa-Nicole Koblentz, and original bare cast members Stephanie Andersen and John Griffin
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