Review: BARE: A POP OPERA, London Palladium

A lacklustre production with too many technical faults to shine.

By: Apr. 08, 2024
Review: BARE: A POP OPERA, London Palladium
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Review: BARE: A POP OPERA, London Palladium One-off staged concerts are all the rage these days. A way for producers to attract established stars who fill a room and the chance to test the waters for potential longer runs are only a few benefits. Realistically, they’re also cheaper, relatively risk-free, and easier to mount than a full-blown production.

The latest in this type of venture is Bare, Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere’s musical with a troubled history. Set in a Catholic boarding school somewhere in the United States, it follows the toils and troubles of a group of 17-year-old students. Their sufferings span everything from sexual orientation to body image, from slut-shaming to parents who refuse to listen. It explores crucial coming-of-age themes, but it becomes a one-size-fits-all for teenage pain.

Now, if you mention the show by its mononymous title only, “Bare” won’t actually say much. Is it the Pop Opera or is it the Musical?, fans will ask. The answer will determine the quality and version of the material. Same story, different takes, in essence - the Pop Opera came first, The Musical was a later revision. The one produced by Lambert Jackson is Bare: A Pop Opera, which, allegedly, should be the superior of the two according to the stans. Directed by Dean Johnson, it leaves a lot to the imagination. An über-talented cast populates a lacklustre event that featured terrible sound management and plenty of missed lighting cues. Mostly, this iteration proves that the project’s cult status relies on its performers.

The performing team are faultless: it’s the young elite of West End showbiz, after all. Jordan Luke Gage and Frances Mayli McCann reunite, with Gage playing the usual heartthrob. Laurie Kynaston crosses Theatreland on an evening off from Long Day’s Journey Into Night to join them in the main role. It’s a starry list of names with impressive vocal chops, but, curiously, it’s the actors with smaller fanbases who stun. Kynaston’s tenor overshadows Gage's and Katie Ramshaw steals the scene with an excellent presence and a voice to match, while Claudia Kariukias towers above all with perfect comic timing and a powerhouse belt. 

Though the remarkable ensemble shine in spite of the uninspired direction, the technical problems result in quite the disappointing investment. One would expect more from the typically high ticket prices and an exclusive programme that rang in at an astonishing £8. Johnson’s vision is something out of Riverdale without the budget to support it. A teeny tiny rose window depicting the famous hand detail in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam hangs over a v-shaped staircase made out of scaffolding and neon lights. It’s a far cry from the likes of Death Note and Chess, with their intricacies and unquestionable beauty of the sets, that we’ve seen produced in previous years.

Between the overworked mist machines (there wasn’t a moment when they weren’t piping fog) and the baffling creative choices, the company soar with the music but immediately dock with the lyrics. Largely unmelodious in their turns of phrase and, at times, frankly subpar, they hint at one of the reasons why the original had a fairly fluctuating commercial life. 

Intrabartolo’s score is cool rock at best and average pop at worst, but it doesn’t stick. It all makes Bare a weird choice for a staged concert, normally a trick to dodge a problematic book and highlight the value of the melodic side of a musical. All in all, the evening wasn’t unbearable, but probably not entirely worth it.



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