REVIEW: Bare, a pop opera

Last night I attended Bare, a musically-charged and sexuality-questioning explosion propelled from the stage and onto the laps of the audience. Certain songs were heavy with harsh beats and foot stomping rhythms, while others captured your heart, a cello pleading softly from the pit. If I could only choose one thing that I liked most about this musical, however, it would definitely be the lyrics. They were so heart felt and poetic; I found myself thinking over each refrain, even after the song was long ended.

Basement Arts put on the performance, so we were sure to get there early to form a line outside the doors. It was in Studio 1 at the Walgreen Drama Center and if you’ve ever been in there you know how small and intimate a theater it is (which was absolutely stellar for this performance). Tickets are free, so everyone just waits in line hoping they’ll be room for them inside. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have to turn away many, if any, people last night, so that’s good.

The Spectrum Center sponsored the event, so I had a hunch on what to expect in the plot. And if that didn’t clue you in to the sexuality themes of the musical, the cover of the playbills would reinforce the message. One key idea in the musical was how to know what is right or normal when those people and institutions in your life, like your parents, school, church, tell you it’s wrong. It was a very moving performance, and the story itself led to many open discussions on issues such as drugs, sex, alcohol, love, the church…etc. These heavy and controversial subjects were handled with respect and consideration, which was good because of the wide range of audience members present. I thought it was beautifully done.

Furthermore, the actors were fantastic and the singing was pretty good; however, probably not one of the best vocals I’ve heard out of a student theater organization. The students didn’t have microphones, so I did appreciate that they had to compete with a drum set, cello, keyboard, and bass guitar to be heard. I thought the two leads, Sam Lips and Michael Hartung, along with the mother of the main character were extremely talented. They stood out the most to me, in terms of talent.

What’s interesting about this musical is it has never been on Broadway, only off. It has performed in numerous tour productions all over the country, but never has it been accepted to perform on Broadway. After seeing the show, and discussing it with a few friends, I think I understand why it has never been able to perform on the same stages as Les Miserables or Wicked or The Phantom of the Opera. It’s good, but the plot is somewhat one dimensional and cliché, in my opinion. The ending, which I’ll refrain from giving away, is somewhat of a cop-out. Not to sound insensitive to the issue it presents, but it does leave the audience a bit dissatisfied (and not like a comfortable open-ending either, but just like…wait, you are really going to ignore the other characters right now??). For me, the story was really focused on Peter, a student at a Catholic school in love with his best friend Jason. I felt the ending shifted away from the struggles of Peter and onto Jason. If I were to rewrite the plot, I would change a few scenes to develop Jason’s character further, especially considering he’s the character we are thinking most about at the end of the show.

Bottom line, it really was a great show, and I’m glad I attended. Supporting Basement Arts and the Spectrum Center AND World AIDS week is always excellent – especially all at the same time!

P.S. If you were wondering who was the creeper running around the Walgreen Drama Center taking pictures with all the Little Women posters…that’d be me. Preview and review coming soon!!!