Cast of 'Bare,' Photo by Chad Batka
Simply put, Bare is a story about love. But with its focus on young, gay, teenage love, it hopes to find an audience that is searching for the same—or at least is not too far away from remembering what that felt like. Centered arond a secret Catholic high school relationship between the geeky and optimistic Peter (Taylor Trensch) and the closeted and confused jock Jason (Jason Hite), the musical hits every emotion—including over-the-top pleasurable sensations (that border on satire) and heartjerking sadness.
Directed by Stafford Arima, the musical has been revamped from its original run in Los Angeles and New York in the early 2000s to incorporate ways in which technology has seeped into society—including issues of cyber bullying—and affect contemporary relationships. It's filled with adorable, first-love moments and the drama that can follow, but the sentimental value of the high school vignettes can start to overwhelm.
By half-way through second act, I felt the crush of emotion from the heavy and real-life sequences and wish there had been a final resolution among the group of friends left in the lurch at the end. My recommendation: plan for a post-show an ice cream or a cocktail so you can process the avalanche of conflicted reactions you might be left with.
Watch this video montage for a sense of what to expect.
The highlights for me were definitely in the first act, as a sap for gleeful beginnings and a cheerleader for love. Aside from the tender and sweet moments between Trensch and Hite, their comedic exchanges were geekly cute—better portrayed by Trensch of the two due to his character having more confidence and character. The music and women of Bare also deserve credit. With eight new songs, Damon Intrabartolo and Lynne Shankel (both music) and Jon Hartmere (lyrics) delivered quite the mix, which complemented and helped create the romantic dramedy I felt from the first act.
Without a doubt, the crowd favorites and strongest charcters were Barrett Wilbert Weed as Nadia, Jason's sister who is somewhat of an outcast, but popular for her drug connections, who I loved for her sharp tongue and wit (let's call her the Janice Ian of the show), and the talented Missi Pyle for her portrayal of the progressive and funny Sister Joan and the diva-fied Virgin Mary in a interactive dream/hallucination sequence that Peter experiences. From the ensemble cast, Diane (played by Alice Lee) stood out for her quirky and naive nature, and song on 'best friends' with Peter that will tickle you!
While simplistic, the visuals and set also caught my attention. Scenic designer Donyale Werle made exceptional use of the moveable and transformable set that served as the building space for all the moments in Bare. It was covered by photographs that came from cast and crew and fans via Instagram, a nice nod to the changing uses of technology that the revival brings into the story.
The musical somewhat brought to mind a darker and more adult Glee, which of course always comes up when you think of singing high schools students, but the two certainly differ in sound and character personas. While a fan of the Fox show, I think if the characters from Bare were given long storylines and more depth, they stand a strong chance of surpassing some of those on Glee.