Thankfully, Cincinnati audiences are typically some of the first outside of New York to see some of the best musicals from Off-Broadway theaters. In the recent past, shows such as The Last Five Years, Radiant Baby, Violet, Tick Tick Boom, and Altar Boyz have graced tri-state stages soon after their rights became available. In the coming months, we'll also get to see some of the initial regional productions of The Great American Trailer Park Musical and Jerry Springer: The Opera. Know Theatre of Cincinnati has done well with some of their Off-Broadway musicals in the past few years with solid productions of See What I Wanna See and Thrill Me. However, with their latest endeavor, bare: The Musical, they're unable to overcome the lackluster score and script to make the show a fully satisfactory theatrical experience.
bare: The Musical follows a group of high school students at a Catholic boarding school as they deal with the typical age-related issues – social acceptance, sexual identity, questioning of religion and adults, experimentation with illegal substances, and raging hormones. At the center of this tale are Peter and Jason, roommates and lovers. Peter longs to come out and bring their relationship to light, while popular overachiever Jason can't bear to bare his secret to the world.
The book by Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere, Jr. deals with some interesting and emotional topics such as the conflict between homosexuality and general rebellion against Catholic morality and Christian faith. But the writing infuses high melodrama into the varying aspects of teenage angst without delving deep enough to make the story more engaging. With a predictable yet underdeveloped ending and a scattered focus throughout, this is a case of missed opportunities.
The score by Mr. Intrabartolo (music) and Mr. Hartmere (lyrics) doesn't fare much better. The generic pop melodies leave your head the moment they're heard, and the lyrics are often forced and shallow of insight. They seem to be trying to copy the sound of the musical Rent, but the quality just isn't the same. There are certainly a few nice musical moments and witty words, but they're generally in short supply.
Despite the issues with the material itself, Know Theatre gives the production a solid presentation. Director Jason Bruffy uses the performance space well and provides an appropriate tone for the piece. However, the weaknesses inherent to the piece are just too limiting, and the result isn't an overly rewarding experience. Musical director Michael Flohr capably leads a talented a seven piece band as well.
The cast is solid and talented. Tim Hein makes the greatest impression as Peter, displaying a beautiful singing voice and a layered portrayal of a conflicted youth. If Cody Williams seems a bit stiff at times as Jason, he sings well and provides a sound interpretation of the role. Anne Marie Carroll likewise is a fine vocalist, and conveys the anger and confusion of her precarious situation appropriately. Todd Patterson (Matt) and Amanda Wilson (Nadia) do well in support, though it was odd to hear the average sized Wilson singing repeatedly about being fat. Tony nominee Pamela Myers, appearing under a special Equity contract, brings obvious talent and experience, but has little to do and is saddled the show's worst song. Piper Davis provides welcome comedy relief and deserves kudos as Sister Chantelle.
The two tiered set in black and grey by Andrew Hungerford serves the piece well throughout, and his lighting is sufficient. Projections are put to effective use for the church and rave scenes, but having them show various angles of the performers during solos is a bit distracting and unnecessary. Liz Holt's costumes are appropriate, but the sound design (or execution) for the show was off at the performance I attended, with many of the lyrics in the ensemble pieces coming out muddled or incoherent.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati should continue to seek the rights to new and edgy pieces. Unfortunately, bare: The Musical just isn't worthy of Know's abilities, especially in comparison to another new rock/pop musical that deals with teenage angst much better – Broadway's Spring Awakening. bare: The Musical continues in Cincinnati through May 4, 2008. Call (513) 300-KNOW for tickets or more information, or visit www.knowtheatre.com.