BWW Reviews: Theatre Out Stages Impressive OC Premiere of BARE - THE MUSICAL
Generally speaking, many of us---no matter what age we may be now---can attest without much hesitation that life in high school has the potential to be...well, a somewhat stressful, highly-emotional battleground to endure. And, gosh, on top of this already volatile roller-coaster of a life sits a nagging voice that constantly reminds you of the "importance" of your personal social standing.
Oh, no. What if your peers notice that you exude qualities that are slightly different from the so-called "norm" and are, perhaps, a bit peculiar and even---heaven forbid---uncool?
Forget it. You're screwed.
Well, okay, probably not. Maybe things have changed a bit for millennials, but it's still easy to generalize that, even today, teenagers can be quite a judgmental bunch (though if you listen to the talking heads yapping on the 24-hour news channels today, adults aren't so immune from this behavior either). In a way, what your friends and peers think about you seems to always be top-of-mind; hence even the most sophomoric comment can hurt just as much as a twisted knife to the gut (but with less blood-loss).
Thus, besides succumbing to daily peer pressure, mounting schoolwork, easily accessible drugs, on-and-off-line bullying, hormonal surges, and abiding by the rules of their home lives, teens also have to constantly keep themselves in check. The questions and self-doubt can quickly pile up...
Am I cool enough? Do I look okay? Are my clothes alright? Do people like me? Are they going to make fun of me? Will anyone accept the real me?
Yep. Insecurities can certainly get the best of us---and perhaps more so for people caught between adolescence and adulthood.
Such is the turmoil that shrouds BARE - THE MUSICAL---the angst-fueled, hyper-melodramatic "pop opera" written by Jon Hartmere Jr. and the late Damon Intrabartolo that first made its debut in Los Angeles back in 2000, followed by its first New York production in 2004. Still resonant more than a decade later, the teen-centric musical continues its Orange County, California premiere performances at Theatre Out---the OC's Gay and Lesbian theatre company---through February 15 at its new home in the heart of Santa Ana's Artists' Village.
Curiously, this flawed but still emotionally-stirring musical is enjoying a bit of a resurgent renaissance lately, a domino effect likely instigated by the recent heavily-revised 2012 off-Broadway production at New World Stages. Naturally, that production soon inspired several regional productions to pop up across the US, including last year's much-lauded Los Angeles production presented by glory-struck productions at the Hayworth Theatre.
I, for one, am happy the show is getting plenty of notice, particularly because, like its similarly angst-y spiritual cousin SPRING AWAKENING, the show gives young, budding musical theater talents a chance to shine in meaty, age-appropriate, vocally-challenging roles.
For this impressive OC debut production, Theatre Out co-founder David C. Carnevale---working with the original, pre-2012 version of the musical---directs a talented cast of 19 within the black box walls of the troupe's new, larger space (less than two blocks from its previous home that was also in Downtown Santa Ana). Though the venue is still appropriately intimate, the larger configuration not only allows for stadium-style seating but also provides a deeper canvas for the musical to unfold. As such, this close proximity between audience and actor certainly highlight this particular musical's raw, vulnerable edges.
Set inside the hallowed halls of St. Cecilia's Catholic Boarding School---populated, of course, with a typical cavalcade of high school students with discernible personalities---BARE focuses most of its spotlight on the secret gay relationship between the school's B.M.O.C. heartthrob Jason (newcomer Jared Grant) and sensitive altar boy Peter (the superb Morgan Reynolds), Jason's roommate/paramour. Though their love---and, frankly, youthful lust---rings true and exciting, their on-the-down-low "taboo" romance inside their religiously-ruled surroundings is not only affecting their other relationships with friends and family but is also bombarding them with turmoil and inner pain.
Slowly and inevitably as expected, the stress of the secret weighs heavily on them both---particularly for Peter who wants desperately to come out so that they can be happy and open about their love. But, Jason, on the other hand, is terrified of exposing the truth, remaining perfectly content on living the lie; so much so that he entertains an intense flirtation with their mutual friend Ivy (the exquisite Krystle Cruz), who is, surprise!, totes interested in Jason.