BARE • A Contemporary Coming-of-Age Musical Prepares to Electrify the Pit & Balcony Stage

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, ,   From Issue 929   By: Robert E Martin

28th April, 2022     0

As we emerge from our post-pandemic fog of forced isolation, fear, and the accompanying despondency that hobbled us as individuals and muted performance stages cross America into barren platforms of possibility, the upcoming Pit & Balcony production of the contemporary pop-opera-musical BARE  presents an excellent opportunity to reclaim the power of the theatrical stage as a vessel to openly display, engage, and reshape the deepest attributes of our humanity that ultimately define us - not only as individuals, but as this collective organism we call ‘society’.

With performances scheduled for May 13-15 & 20-22, Pit & Balcony has cultivated a well-deserved reputation over the past decade for staging top-notch contemporary Spring Musical productions such as Spring Awakening, RENT, Next to Normal and American Idiot, that are grounded more often than not by harsh contexts of reality whereby both character and audience are transformed to a plateau of deeper and richer understanding of the subject matter, as opposed to the manufactured exuberance of escapism offered by most traditional Broadway musicals of the earlier 20th Century from 1920-1970 - and BARE is perhaps one of the meatiest offerings within this genre.

Essentially a pulsating, electric, coming-of-age rock musical with lyrics and a book by Jon Hartmere and music by Damon Intrabartolo, BARE premiered in October, 2000 at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles and later moved to Off-Broadway in 2004, with a revised version opening in 2012.

The narrative follows a group of students at a Catholic boarding school as they grapple with issues of sexuality, identity, and the future. Centering upon the characters of Peter and Jason, whom have fallen in love with each other, both are deeply conflicted. Jason -- a popular athlete -- fears losing his status if he is discovered to be gay. Similarly, Jason’s sister Nadia is unpopular and contemptuous of Ivy, a beautiful girl with a questionable reputation.

As the group attempts to put up a production of Romeo and Juliet, tensions flare, self-doubt simmers, and God’s path seems more difficult to find than ever.  Ringing and resonant with the sounds of youthful repression and revolt, BARE offers a unique sung-through pop score, heart-pounding lyrics, and is a provocative, fresh, and utterly honest look at the dangers of baring your soul, and the consequences of continuing to hide.

Directed by Hope Brown, who graduated from Heritage High School in 2014 and first performed at Pit & Balcony with their production of RENT in 2015, she previously made her directorial debut with James & the Giant Peach and BARE will be the first musical she has directed for the Pit.

When asked about her own personal take on the story and themes that carry this musical, Hope reflects upon how she views it as a study in authenticity. “The basic plot is really focused around two boys going to Catholic boarding school who become roommates, struggling with the identity their parents have fashioned for them versus their own sexual identity and how they become their true authentic selves. On the one hand they want to feel acceptance, but also feel they have expectations from their parents and their peers to deal with, so you see different story arcs between the students.”

“Another pair of students are dealing with mental health issues and a different set of family dynamics,” she continues, “but thematically this play deals with everything from suicide and depression to anxiety all shared by a common denominator that all of these characters are avoiding baring their own emotions - they are not becoming their true authentic selves. Of course, in high school we are centered upon acceptance, but this is why we wanted to set this production in the modern day as well, because people still deal with everything this play touches upon and its very relevant to today.”

When asked what she feels distinguishes this production from other contemporary musicals, Hope references its depth. “The thing I love about this show is the way it digs beneath the surface on so many levels. I’m encouraging the cast to break down their characters in terms of the layers that exist between the face value of their popular selves and the true nature of their self-image that distinguishes them from being accepted and accepting themselves as they truly are.”

“Every character has their own story and multiple layers to that story,” she adds.  “Plus musically, there’s a great balance between high-spirited songs and somber emotional numbers that juxtapose those moments between the characters that make it really interesting and engage the story. I’m encouraging the cast to bring as much of their own authentic story to the stage through their character and its beautiful to see what they’re already sharing with us.”

With a cast that consists of Jack Doyle and Spencer Beyerlein in the lead roles of Peter & Jason; Karly Laskowski and Nina Groll as Nadia & Ivy, Emilo Gomez as Matt, and Krystal Nunn in the pivotal role of Chantelle, the 17-member cast have been a dream to work with, according to Assistant Director Gio Romello.

We thought casting this production would be challenging, but what I realize when I see these actors bare their emotions is how willing they’ve been to give themselves 110% at rehearsals,” he comments. “We had about 20 actors come to audition of all different ethnicities and genders; and it was difficult to cast in the sense that we could have staged four different productions given the amount of vocal and acting talent that came out during auditions.”

“Despite its dramatic ending, BARE is an optimistic story through and through,” reflects Gio. “It’s a story that allows the audience and actors to view religion through a different lens they aren’t used to and allows us to study and learn from it by diving into what the religious aspect of the story have to do with love and drama and tie that into real life emotions.  That itself makes for a unique piece of story telling that can be compelling and nurturing for people that don’t have that perspective; plus, it’s a powerful story for each character involved that allows them to have a journey. This allows the actors to fully create their characters and it takes an emphatic soul to bring out these emotions.”

In terms of what each cast member brings to this production, Hope points out how Jack Doyle has a theatre degree from the University of Michigan and has come a long way in his vocal journey. “He didn’t used to be a singer but worked on it and its impressive to see how dedicated he is and how far he’s advanced vocally.  Similarly, Spencer Beyerlein has developed a friendship with Jack, so only a couple rehearsals into the production I can tell these two are going to be fantastic and are both able to express their true vulnerable selves on the stage.”

Krystal Nunn has also displayed remarkable talent portraying the role of Sister Chantell, who is the head-nun an teacher at this school, so she has a really strong role of holding up her religious beliefs but also being accepting,” reflects Hope. “She sees each character exactly as who they are and many of the songs are formed around her presence. She gives young gay people a chance and the acceptance they deserve and because Krystal is a singer in her church choir she brings a lot of Gospel background to that role and delivers a warm and inviting performance.”

With a live band, four vocal ensemble numbers, and a couple of high dance routines wrapped around a narrative context that explores our vulnerabilities, Hope says her biggest challenge as a director centers upon getting the actors to summon those vulnerabilities and show the audience who they truly are. “For me the significance of this production is showing how so many more people would be able to cope with their problems if they realized they share certain things in common. I keep reminding the cast how important it is to let the audience fall into the soul of their character as much as they can.”

“When coming to BARE audiences should anticipate humor, sadness, light humor, dark sarcasm, playfulness, happy moments, wishful moments, and somber moments,” concludes Hope. “They should expect to see those moments where the layers parallel between characters that intertwine together and create a truly memorable story.”

“The biggest thrill for me is having an idea and watching the actors come up with something better,” concludes Gio. “Of all the plays Pit & Balcony has produced this season, for me this is the meatiest out of the whole platter of shows because these are deep emotions being dealt with. The cast could just sing to the audience and that would sell itself with this play; but how to go beyond that and expand upon the depth of the emotional experience is something truly special. Honestly, I’m bringing tissues for everyone and my goal is to get everybody in the region to see this show.”

The themes are weighty, but exactly what we need.”

Pit & Balcony’s production of BARE runs from Thursday - Sunday, May 13-15 & 20-22. Performances are at 7:30 PM Fridays & Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. Tickets are available by phoning 989.754.6587 or visiting PitanBalconyTheatre.com.

 

 

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