Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Bare is the story of Peter and Jason, two high school boys who are in love. However, since they attend a Catholic boarding school and are both closeted, they hide away their true selves and get little support or guidance from their religious leaders or parents. The other kids at school have issues of their own, including drug use, a girl who finds herself falling for one of the gay boys, and an overweight teen who cuts herself to relieve her pain. These teens struggle as they question if baring their truths is worth the potential pain it may entail, or if it would be better to just keep things hidden away. All of the main characters are cast in the school production of Romeo and Juliet, which mirrors the musical's plot of forbidden love.
While the plot and issues in Bare have been seen before, there is a lot to identify with in the familiar characters and situations. Also, the score includes dozens of impactful and introspective ballads and ensemble numbers, though with more than 40 songs, there are a few that are repetitive and a couple that don't add to the plot or the character development. And, since the entire show is almost sung, with just a few lines of dialogue, there is some confusion in a few places that could have been cleared up with added dialogue to make it even more impactful. Still, it is a haunting musical about the horrible treatment and misguidance some parents and most religions can inflict on youth who need support and understanding at a crucial time in their lives.
Kenny Grossman's direction keeps the plot focused and the action moving, with the leads all using effective gestures to depict the obstacles, happy moments, and sad times their characters encounter. The set design by Bobby Sample uses an impressive group of arches that light up to depict the interior of the school's chapel, and a few moving platforms to quickly establish the bedrooms of the students and the various locales of the show. Adam Bei's skilled music direction derives rich vocals from the large cast as well as a gorgeous sound from the small orchestra. The choreography by Tina Caspary adds energy to the large group numbers.
Christian Bader and Kyler Tunnell are both excellent as Jason, the outgoing but closeted jock, and the quiet loner Peter, respectively. Both have beautiful singing voices and an intense connection with each other that makes their characters' relationship come across as completely realistic. Through the use of natural facial expressions and appropriate body language we clearly understand the level of fear and concern they both have about being found out, but at the same it's clear how they feel their true selves when they are with each other.
In supporting roles, Bethany Novotny and Sabrina Kiepke, as Ivy, the girl who is in love with Jason, and Jason's overweight sister Nadia, respectively, do good work in fleshing out what are written as somewhat one-dimensional characters. Both have beautiful singing voices that excel on their songs. Jack Taylor does a good job of letting us see why Matt, the boy who is in love with Ivy even though she doesn't seem interested in him, chooses to make decisions that drastically alter the plot.
There are three adult roles in the show and the three youth actors cast in those parts are all quite good. Ronda Felton is hilarious as the domineering drama teacher Sister Chantelle, who is overseeing the school's production of Romeo and Juliet. Her voice soars on her solos and she infuses the nun with a huge amount of compassion at one moment in the show. As Peter's mother Clare, Jesse Pike lets us clearly understand why she isn't ready to deal with the truth about her son. Anand Khalsa is direct yet appropriately non-committal as the school's priest.
Bare first premiered almost 20 years ago and its plot is fairly simple, straightforward, and similar to other dramas that focus on teen issues, but with a score that has honesty and adds a raw emotion to the simplicity of the characters and the situations they find themselves in, it comes across as fresh and still relevant today. It's also a musical that beautifully and subtly portrays hope in tragedy and how forgiveness is more important than finding blame. With an excellent cast and spotless direction, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production is well worth seeing and a moving production of this fairly provocative show.
Bare runs through November 3, 2019, at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or call 602-843-8318.
Book and music by Damon Intrabartolo
Director: Kenny Grossman