BWW Review: BARE: A POP OPERA, The Vaults
In a Catholic boarding school in the United States, a group of teenagers try to find their place in the world. They grapple with accepting their sexual orientation and identity, trying to reconcile self-discovery with the religious education they've been subjected to.
After its premiere in Los Angeles in 2000, Bare: A Pop Opera never had its Broadway debut. Following a run Off-Broadway in 2004, it steadily received smaller productions around the world ever since. A fan-favourite with a substantial cult following, Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere's (who wrote music and lyrics respectively, and the book together) musical lands at The Vaults in a flawed production that does, however, hit the general emotional mark.
The cast are a steadfast machine. Darragh Cowley and Daniel Mack Shand lead as the young, closeted, gay couple Jason and Peter. It may be due to press night nerves, but their chemistry gets better once the show properly kicks off. They build their relationship well, leaving an underlying tension between them. They are surrounded by a series of smaller storylines that liven up the familiar plot and tackle more adolescence-related troubles.
Tom Hier's melodic voice outshines many others as Matt, soaring with power and inflection and Stacy Francis adds sass and cheek to Sister Chantelle, the nun who doubles as drama teacher. She delivers gigantic notes with ease and steals the scene every time she steps on the stage. Georgie Lovatt has an equally powerful voice; she takes the audience through Nadia's insecurity and self-esteem issues with confidence and drive.
She goes head to head with Lizzie Emery's Ivy, who owns her predictable journey with assurance and sensitivity. The ensemble make for a solid background, performance-wise. The characters are common plot conventions all conforming to a standard American coming-of-age story.
Director Julie Atherton's staging confuses the outcome of the production. The cross-like stage impairs the view, contributing to some action being entirely cut off from pieces of the audience. She has large holy paintings looking down the characters as murals, but these look more like the restored version of Elias Garcia Martinez's EcceHomo than anything else.
The band is placed high up on a balcony-of-sorts at one far end, which isn't, in truth, the wisest idea for a pop/rock musical like this. Perhaps due to the nature of the auditorium or a less-than-optimal sound system, the songs don't shine as much as they should.
Syllables are eaten alive by the resonance of the music and not even the mics can pick up everything in the ensemble numbers, unfortunately leaving a few of the lyrics to become mumbles that are hard to understand. Even though Intrabartolo's score presents strong rock outlines, these don't stick once the songs are over and Hartmere's words are only poignant and useful to the purpose.
The original text has been slightly updated to fit into the narrative offered by modern politics. In a nation dominated by Trump's legislative climate, Jason and Peter's hidden romance and its ultimate result seem shockingly legitimate. Atherton takes a step further: real life intrudes in Bare's fictional universe and the show ends on a heartbreaking note that turns it upside-down.
All things considered, it's a bittersweet production. The company offer cohesive and compelling performances which - with Stuart Rogers's energetic and dynamic choreography and Andrew Ellis's lighting design - paint a terrifying picture of contemporary teenage life. The updated plot works well in its triteness but has its true consolidation only at the very end, leaving its audience to deal with the aftermath on their own.
Photo credit: Tom Grace