Review: Bare: A Pop Opera (online streaming)

American creators, Damon Intrabartolo (music) and Jon Hartmere (book and lyrics) launched the originally titled Bare: A Pop Opera in Off Broadway previews in 2012. The story follows a group of teens as they wrestle with their identities both religious and sexual at a co-ed Catholic boarding school. As their final year of high school draws to a close, they attempt to navigate the complex road from adolescence to adulthood. Then they must deal with the consequences of their choices as they attempt to take the next steps in their lives.

One of the major changes in the work from ‘pop opera’ to ‘musical’ as Hartmere says, is “… the biggest change is having more space to evolve the characters. Some scenes and characters have been changed, for example Nadia is no longer overweight and is now the school’s drug dealer. Songs and scenes have been moved or deleted for a stronger flow and understanding and we incorporated current technology and social media. Peter’s mother was eliminated from the original show but we have added the character of Father Mike. The show’s timeline is very different and romantic break ups and reconciliations occur in different places. Bare: the musical is still very much rooted in the story and back story of Romeo & Juliet. It is now a sung through musical and, interestingly, by choice or licence, Nottingham based BJW Productions have chosen to stay with the original ‘Pop Opera’ format. The show promises ‘A unique sung-through score, heart-pounding lyrics, and a cast of bright & diverse characters, Bare is a provocative, fresh, and utterly honest look at the dangers of baring your soul, and the consequences of continuing to hide who you truly are.’

This online streamed amateur production, directed by Adam Guest and musically directed by Ben Ward runs 17-19 June 2020. The director and creative teams have adhered to Covid Safe protocols throughout their rehearsals and filming periods especially in respect of the scenes requiring intimacy. Bare was filmed at Duchess Theatre Long Eaton. The sound design is by Harry Greatorex, lighting design by Jamie Vella and video design by James Newton.

The young cast comprises Aiden Carson (Peter) Robert McAuley (Jason) Matthew McAuley (Student/Ensemble) Emily Knight (Ivy) Molly Hewitt – Richards (Nadia) Harvey Latter (Matt) Sascha Cornelius (Sister Chantelle) Laura Jones (Claire) Lindsay Greasley (Student/Ensemble) Natalie Webster (Student/Ensemble) Lucy Gazzard (Student/Ensemble) Curtis Taylor Tipton (Lucas) and Gabriel Bonilla (Priest).

Booking can be completed HERE.

Bare cast
Bare cast

The first things that impact and impress about this excellent production of Bare: The Pop Opera are the maturity and high level stage skills demonstrated from beginning to end. A sung through musical isn’t an easy thing to pull off (nor any musical for that matter) and this young amateur company show admirably high levels of acting through song that are both believable and at just the right level for a streamed version. For an audience watching at home the delivery is more a feeling of musical belts and buckles tautness than being belted at vocally. The maturity aspect is in regard to the quality playing of young characters in their late teens who are going through the emotional and psychological mill of discovering and dealing with their sexuality and peer pressure and spiritual ignorance.

Bare isn’t, by any means, the first musical to use the perennial story of Romeo & Juliet as the sticky mess dramatic glue that brings all the characters together and either attempts to cement relationships or totally gunges up the lives of the vulnerable to the point of thoughts of suicide. It’s serious stuff generally, trying to navigate relationships and young love, made doubly so if, like two of the main characters, Peter and Jason, you happen to be gay in a Catholic boarding school.

There are some top class, well sung performances from Aiden Carson (Peter) and Robert McAuley (Jason) as the two potentially doomed gay lovers. Both actors bring a natural warmth, sensitivity and sensuality to their roles without resorting to clichĂ© or stereotyping. Emily Knight and Molly Hewitt- Richards shine with confidence as the emotionally confused counterpoints Ivy and Nadia. Laura Jones gives us plenty of controlled musical drama as Claire and Sascha Cornelius is outstanding as Sister Chantelle. Gabriel Bonilla’s confident role as the priest is commanding and it would be interesting to see him appearing more prominently throughout the story. The student ensemble bring their own believable theatrical and musical dynamic to the stage and the way the piece is filmed and edited Bare avoids the pitfalls of slowing the pace through practical scene changes that would occur in a live production. Ben Ward’s invisible eight piece band excel in their musical accompaniment and as creators of acoustic mood. Overall, this class production has professionalism written all over it and its themes are relevant to any young person growing up and dealing with connecting with people in friendships and relationships regardless of personal persuasion. It also recognises that not everyone is easy to persuade when the truth is right there in front of their very eyes. And, as Shakespeare rather aptly said “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

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