Bare - Well, Kind Of

If there is one impression that I gathered from Bare's publicity leading up to their preview performances, it was this: this will NOT be the Bare that us Theatre Aficionados, Bloggers, YouTubers and Tumblrers have come to know. If you think that idea worried me, you are correct - it is Bare's first high-profile debut in how long and already so much has changed? Uh oh...

Even with my familiarity bias taking a back seat (kind of), I can still comfortably say that this production of Bare, now open at New World Stages, seems like a step back from the 'franchise' (if you can call it that). With most audiences (I imagine) unfamiliar with the show at its core, the creative choices behind this one seem downright questionable in a "why change what clearly works and made the show a cult favorite in the first place?" kind of way. Like say, renaming (and re-staging) "Bare: A Pop Opera" to "Bare: The Musical"...umm, they do realize there is a difference between the two, right? Did they think we wouldn't notice?

I see a pattern brewing with Stafford Arima-directed productions...I typically like his shows despite several direction-related quibbles. Take Carrie for instance - that production never really explored the depth of the characters or the horror/supernatural aspect, and instead, focused on gloriously unsubtle teen angst and drama ("The World According to Chris" anyone...even though it's catchy and I jam out to it on occasion). In Bare's case, the emotional arch for most of the characters, particularly Peter and Jason's secret relationship, never really takes off due to a combination of major MAJOR script changes (Peter is already out of the closet?), the quicker pace killing any chance for the show's more understated aspects to shine, several cut songs and select inferior ones incorporated and a few miscast performers.

Lady McGyver in the Houseeee!
Yeesh, this is sounding way critical then I intend to. Okay, let's talk positives...the whole coming-of-age depiction of teen angst, promiscuity and sexuality in a religious subtext was once post-modern, but nowadays, it is more versed in the pop culture of today. It is to the show's credit that it didn't get lazy and actually put in the effort to maintain its modern street cred. A set design courtesy of Lady McGyver herself, Donyale Werle, consisting of fan-submitted Instagram photos sets the perfect feel of the show and is complimented by Howell Binkley's lighting design. Take a look at how the color gradient of the 14,000-ish photos is very tone-on-tone and occasionally evokes rainbow-esque colors? Probably the most subtle detail in a production mostly lacking it. Add in the use of iPhones, projections, etc. and it all adds up to just enough cues, as obvious as they are, of updating the show's run-through to 2012.

For me, the show was always about the score and while some changes to it are "nails on a chalkboard" territory, it is still good overall. Oh sure, that "Best Friends" song that they threw in is a cracktastic disaster...it is basically Bare's version of "The World According to Chris." A pop, bubblegum, glaringly obvious, K-Pop sounding number (not helping that the show's one Asian actress, Alice Lee, was the one dueting on it), that doesn't fit thematically or tonally and is played for uber high-camp laughs. What. The. Eff.

But listen to the show's title number, "You and I" or "Best Kept Secret" and try to not be moved by the passion of Jason and Peter's relationship. In fact, "passion" is the operative word pulsating through most of the score, whether played for a beautiful moment or something a little more edgier, like the "Are You There?" number, akin to the disaffected generation's unanswered plea for clarity when the world has none to offer.

The cast is generally a talented young bunch; unfortunately, Taylor Trensch and Elizabeth Judd miss the mark. Trensch flounders through the role of Peter, the out and, in this case, self-assured half of the central relationship, but more importantly, the dude needs some work to convey the emotion of Peter's plight through song. Judd's issue isn't so much vocally, but her performance as Ivy, the slutty transfer student with a grey past, did nothing to grab my attention or make me care for her. Not to mention, everytime she sings, her immobility and stoic facial expressions make it look like she is calculating her tax refunds or something.

But the rest of the cast is full of standouts. Jason Hite, playing the closeted jock Jason, really stuns on his "Role of a Lifetime" number and his performance remains grounded enough amidst all of his relationship and sexuality histrionics. Barrett Wilbert Weed plays my favorite character, Nadia, the bitter outcast, perfectly. Channeling a Lizzy Caplan pastiche, she is sarcastic and bitchtastic with a bold, unique voice that you can't ignore...during her first solo, all eyes were on her as she took command of the stage. Gerard Canonico is typical Gerard...well-sung with the full scale of intensity as Matt, the jealous, emo student pining for Ivy. Alex Wyse's talents are underutilized as Alan, the school's resident Jew, but he is hilarious for, like, the six lines he gets. And as Sister Joan, Missi Pyle is wonderfully empathetic and sharp as she dolls out funny one-liners effortlessly.

As far as Bare goes, knitpicks aside, this production is really at the pulse of modern theater and has plenty to offer. For those familiar with previous productions, chuck all expectations at the door...or at least try to. This production may leave me wishing that a future run will work out the kinks, but no matter the case, Bare won't leave me or leave the collective conscience of it's viewers...it's back and right now, that's sufficient enough after all the waiting and anticipation in the first place.

Photo Credit: Bare via towelroad.com, nyri.com


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This is so awesome so bold and so fantastic. This kind of topics need to be discussed more openly in our society now. Someone's sexuality is not a taboo , this is a bare reality we need to face this now. Grow up guys..!!

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