BWW Review: Radical Arts' BARE Features Strong Performances from Rising Actors

BWW Review: Radical Arts' BARE Features Strong Performances from Rising Actors

Without a doubt, an individual's teenage years can be fraught with tension and riddled with despair and even when that is leavened by the joy of self-discovery and the constant gaining of knowledge that accompanies adolescence, there's a steep learning curve that some are unable to embrace gracefully. All of that is apparent in bare, a pop opera, the almost completely sung-through "rock musical" currently onstage at Nashville's Music Valley Event Center in a production from director Seth Limbaugh's Radical Arts.

MVEC has become Radical Arts' "home away from home," so to speak, as the Murfreesboro-based arts Production Company continues its mission of presenting progressive and "cutting edge" material for local audiences eager to embrace shows outside the usual offerings from older, more sedate - "prim and proper" comes to mind - companies. Radical Arts' bare, however, follows the Circle Players (Middle Tennessee's oldest community theatre organization) 2014 production by some four years.

With a book by John Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo (with music by Intrabartolo and lyrics by Hartmere), bare has a tremendous theater following, especially among younger actors to whom the story and music speaks most eloquently about the travails of navigating those difficult teenage years, particularly when dealing with one's sexual orientation among the hormone-challenged students in a private Catholic boarding school.

BWW Review: Radical Arts' BARE Features Strong Performances from Rising Actors
Daniel Carrasquillo and Nathan Stultz
- photo by Luke Rogers Photography

At the center of the plot are two boys in their senior year at St. Cecelia's - Jason, the school's closeted golden boy, played with conviction by Daniel Carrasquillo, and Peter, his lovestruck roommate, portrayed with urgent commitment by Nathan Stultz - who are dealing with their growing romance and its meaning in their lives as they near graduation. Peter accepts his sexual orientation with more than a little grace and wants to come out to family and friends, to acknowledge who he is and who he loves. Jason, the more circumspect scion of a traditionally Catholic family (his twin sister Nadia, played by the always appealing Maddie Menendez Alldredge, is also a senior at the school), fears the repercussions of coming out and is reluctant to announce the true nature of his relationship with Peter.

Thus, the stage is set for possible exposure and its accompanying repercussions. First produced in the early 2000s, bare seems particularly redolent of its times, the events transpiring over the course of the two-plus hours of the pop opera today seeming rather incongruous. Yet even while the acceptance of same-sex relationships and the grudging acceptance of some people of same-sex marriages that has occurred in the past several years, the issues examined by Intrabartolo and Hartmere continue to resonate with audiences, which explains their fervent following.

However, one cannot help but compare the storyline of bare with the more successful and widely known musicalization of Spring Awakening, the adaptation of the Frank Wedekend 1891 play of the same name by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. Both shows entered the pop culture zeitgeist around the same time and both deal with the emotional upheavals and budding sexuality of their teenaged characters, both with dramatic and tragic consequences that result from the lack of concern and consideration by the adults in the students' lives.

Marred by a sound design that rendered some lyrics unintelligible and some spoken lines totally lost in Act 1, sound levels were adjusted for Act 2 which helped tremendously to convey the intense emotion inherent in the script. The various characters among the student body are played convincingly by actors of the right age and temperament for the musical and one cannot help but admire their focus and devotion to bringing the show to life.

Limbaugh's serviceable, if uninspired direction, makes the most of the performance space at MVEC and E. Roy Lee's set design provides the perfect backdrop for the play's action. Musical director Emily Dennis puts her actor/singers through their paces and displays her consistent command of the score, but the show suffers from the recorded accompaniment - live music would add yet another dimension to the show's impact.

BWW Review: Radical Arts' BARE Features Strong Performances from Rising Actors
The cast of bare, a pop opera
-photo by Mark Stultz Photography

In addition to Carrasquillo and Stultz, who add to their already impressive theatrical resumes with performances that are palpably honest and affecting, the aforementioned Alldredge threatens to steal the show with her portrayal of the acerbic and biting Nadia, who nonetheless shows much heart over the course of the show. Nicole Turner gives a particularly nuanced performance in her role of Ivy, the girl who falls for Jason after a drunken birthday party which sets the plot in precipitous motion.

Miracle Ham makes the most of her time onstage in the role of Sister Chantelle, the forward-thinking nun who provides some much-needed heart masquerading as comic relief to the proceedings. Among Limbaugh's ensemble, Jarvis Bynum, Scotty Phillips, Kate Hatch, Amanda Caperton, Maggie Wood, Carlie Young, Bret Carson, Jared Taylor, Kate Murphy Johnston and the singularly named Skip, provide support to the leading players.

bare, a pop opera. Book by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo. Music by Damon Intrabartolo. Lyrics by Jon Hartmere. Directed by Seth Limbaugh. Musical direction by Emily Dennis. Choreography by Kaitlyn Moore. Presented by Radical Arts at Music Valley Event Center, Nashville. Through June 24. Tickets are available online at Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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