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Bare – The Musical by John Hartmere & Damon Intrabartolo

Bare - The Musical
Photo: Belinda Strodder

At St Cecilia’s boarding school, the students are going through typical high school angst, while rehearsing for a production of “Romeo & Juliet”. If you think that is a portent for mayhem and doom, you would be right. But there’s still a lot of fun to be had along the way.

Bare – The Musical has a cult following borne of its original Off-Broadway run in 2004. It’s been through a number of changes over the years, having originally been produced as bare: a pop opera, which is a much more interesting title than the one it’s now got under the current licensing agreement.

I originally saw bare: a pop opera at Cromwell St Theatre during Midsumma a decade ago. This was right around the time I was discovering not all stage musicals had to be multi-million-dollar budgeted with huge casts. I was overly effusive in my praise of bare at the time, excited to see a strong local production of a score I’d heard several variations of at that point.

Ten years later, I thought I was headed to Stage Arts’ latest production to see the updated version of the show. In 2012, Bare was produced as a book musical, which is a strange evolution for a sung-through musical to take. Luckily, this local production is much closer to a pop opera, retaining the original concept of Nadia, the “plain jane fatass” as she describes herself in song, one of the highlights of the show.

Stage Arts have been producing strong productions of niche musicals for a number of years now, having previously mounted In the Heights, Dreamgirls, The Color Purple and the excellent Falsettos earlier this year. I’d say Bare was a riskier venture, without the name recognition of the earlier shows or the history of a show like Falsettos. But given the crowd reaction at opening night, Stage Arts seem to be on another winner.

For me, though, while the themes and experiences are timeless, this is an early work by its writers and it shows. The central love story of Peter and Jason, two boys falling in love at Catholic boarding school, is intense as you would expect in a musical that alludes to Shakespeare and also includes drug taking, underage sex and teenage pregnancy.

But the characters themselves are flat, cardboard cut-outs jumping through the expected hoops of teenage melodrama. That doesn’t mean the show won’t tug at your heartstrings though, and Adam di Martino makes a lot out of Peter’s emotions – especially during “See Me,” a phone call to his mother.

Much more interesting are the previously-mentioned Nadia - Jason’s sister, and Ivy - who hooks up with Jason after her birthday party. Set against the backdrop of the central love story, these two characters seem less like clichés – especially in the hands of actors Hannah Grondin and Hannah McInerny. Nadia might lament about spending “A Quiet Night at Home” but when she’s invited out, she finds her voice and Grondin steals focus every time she’s on stage – and to good effect.

Ivy, who is oblivious to the love of Matt, falls for Jason, and must struggle with multiple teenage problems and while “Portrait of a Girl” suggests hidden depths, McInerny’s “All Grown Up” makes for the strongest performance of the night. It’s a rocking portrait of teenage girl whose Catholic upbringing hasn’t prepared her at all for growing up so quickly.

The production itself is superb, taking full advantage of the stained-glass window at Chapel Off Chapel and some wonderful lighting from Jason Bovaird, whose work must stretch from the intimacy of a confessional to the wild incandescent vision of a rave.

Director and set designer Dean Dreiberg keeps the show moving inside the simple, versatile set; and though the choreography is slightly indulgent in places, it all makes for a gorgeous visual treat.

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