Group: New Line Theatre
Venue: Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
Dates: June 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25
Tickets: From $10 to $20; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: It’s a time of decision for the seniors at St. Cecilia’s Catholic boarding school. They’re wrapping up high school and wondering what lies ahead. For Peter, it’s determination to openly admit his homosexuality and his love for his roommate, Jason. The latter, however, is ambivalent about his own sexuality and its potential ramifications. While Jason professes to love Peter, he also feels threatened by how his ‘coming out’ could jeopardize all he’s worked to achieve.
A campus production of “Romeo & Juliet” features Jason and the flirtatious Ivy in the title roles, while Peter and another student, Matt, pine for their respective desires. As Ivy becomes attracted to Jason, Matt’s jealousy flares, exacerbated by what he knows about Jason’s relationship with Peter. Ivy’s roommate and Jason’s twin sister, Nadia, deals with her own issues of being overweight as well as being rejected for the role of Juliet by drama teacher Sr. Chantelle. While Peter attempts to openly declare his sexuality to his mother and others, Jason increasingly frets over his father’s and his church’s negative reaction to his being gay and also is overwhelmed by some surprising news from Ivy.
Highlights: Originally titled “Bare: A Pop Opera,” this two-act musical by composer Damon Intrabartolo and lyricist Jon Hartmere Jr. is an affecting and intricately conceived work that shrewdly utilizes Intrabartolo’s and Hartmere’s book as a foundation for their complex score. Premiered in Los Angeles in 2000 and performed briefly off-Broadway in 2004, the show has enjoyed modest success driven more by a cult following than box-office receipts. It’s smart, humorous and sophisticated, all elements readily observable in the regional premiere mounted by artistic director Scott Miller in New Line Theatre’s engaging and accessible presentation.
Other Info: Reminiscent of such works as “Spring Awakening” and “Next to Normal” as well as that granddaddy rock opera, “Tommy,” in its highly stylized and difficult melodic structure, “bare” presents its cast with a bountiful feast of musical numbers in which they can display their vocal prowess. Thus, we are treated to Charlotte Byrd’s smooth blend of angst and envy as Nadia on ballads such as “A Quiet Night at Home” and “Spring,” or Mike Dowdy’s beautiful interpretation as Peter on “Role of a Lifetime.”
Both Byrd and Dowdy possess splendid voices and merit praise as well for their portrayals of their characters. Terrie Carolan offers an incisive portrait of the glam queen Ivy, showing her petulance as well as demonstrating her own capable vocal talents. Veteran New Line performer Nikki Glenn virtually steals the show as the tough-talking but tolerant Sr. Chantelle and is especially amusing as the Ross-esque leader of a sassy trio of “Virgin Marys” in Peter’s coming-out dream, “911 Emergency!”
The production is not without its problems. As Jason, Jacob Golliher is convincing in his interpretation of the tormented campus golden boy, but his vocal talents are adequate at best in comparison with more talented colleagues.
Additionally, the New Line band conducted by pianist Justin Smolik, while highly professional and energetic, too often drowned out the cast on opening night in ensemble production numbers, to the point that lyrics sometimes were unintelligible. Toning down the volume by Smolik’s capable musicians would only enhance the presentation. That combo includes D. Mike Bauer on lead guitar and flute, rhythm guitarist Aaron Doerr, keyboardist Sue Goldford, Dave Hall on bass and percussionist Clancy Newell.
Rahamses Galvan makes the most of the comic potential in the character of student ‘pharmacist’ Luke, while Nyssa Duchow is ever amusing as the talent-challenged but perennially optimistic Diane. Zachary Allen Farmer effectively tones down his usual antic persona as the timid school priest, while Jonathan Foster displays his own impressive talents as Ivy’s wannabe lover, Matt. Alison Helmer is fine as Peter’s mother, and the ensemble also includes Chance Kilgour, Andrea Kimberling, Sarah Porter, John Michael Rotello and Michelle Sauer.
Todd Schaefer’s set design smartly plays out the action in front of a Catholic Church altar with a looming cross impressively illuminated by Kenneth Zinkl above the proceedings, with Ivy and Nadia’s boarding room judiciously laid out at stage right. Thom Crain’s costumes get the right look for the parochial student uniforms, boys and girls, as well as Sr. Chantelle’s habit, with capable contributions by sound designer Sarah Wilson, dance captain Sauer and props master Helmer.
Miller keeps the production moving briskly while also consistently bringing out the work’s sophistication, including guiding his players successfully through its complicated score. Really, there’s little ‘bare’ about this rendition past its title. Quite the opposite, it’s an engaging evening of entertainment.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.