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.