By Michelle Barker
WatersEdge Production’s production of BARE. Heard of it? You will. But before you start hearing about it everywhere, let me tell you a little bit about my experience with this musical-pop-opera hybrid.
I’ll start by saying this: I struggle to embrace musical theatre. It’s fair to say that a part of me didn’t want to like a ‘pop opera’. Regardless, I went in with an open mind.
BARE, written by Jon Hartmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, is a musical exploration of the lives of students in a Catholic secondary school with a focus on two young gay men. With a minimalist set, dramatic lighting concepts, and up-beat, pop-inspired numbers, the audience is taken through the students’ daily lives as they prepare for a production of the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet.
This is probably an appropriate time to say that in an effort not to draw obvious parallels to other productions of which you may or may not be familiar, I’m not going to mention the words ‘rent’, ‘spring’, or ‘awakening’. I don’t think it took anybody in the audience long to see from whence the inspiration for the show came.
My darling show partner Rodney, a friend I brought for the fact that he’s well-versed in musical theatre, and I ventured to Hart House with a mutual friend. I was skeptical when I saw the eerily familiar pre-set of the stage. These worries were reaffirmed when the show started off with some sound glitches and confusing lighting cues.
In fact, the entire first act left me underwhelmed, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of intrigue at what seemed to be an incredibly strong foundation for a remarkable show.
Cue the second act, also known as some of the best musical theatre I’ve seen in a long while. Technical glitches seemed to start working themselves out for the most part and the entire cast took it up a notch to drive the incredibly poignant resolution of the production home.
The whole audience was cheering and clapping in songs like ‘God don’t make no trash’, and ‘Spring’, while they were moved to stunned silence in numbers like ‘Cross’ and ‘Absolution’.
When we walked out of the theatre in a state of emotional wreckage, we immediately started discussing the cast. When I mentioned that I enjoyed the young core cast, particularly lead actor Wade Muir, I was really interested to hear Rodney’s thoughts on the subject. While we agreed that Muir stood out as an exceptionally-talented and promising actor, Rodney felt, as a gay man, a bit disappointed by some of the other characters who were so familiar in the gay world.
However, we both had the exact same comments about three performances of three cast members that blew us away. The performances that were the best for us were the ones that showed strength and vocal maturity, thereby stealing every scene of which they were a part. Nichola Lawrence’s power-house performance as Sister Chantelle was an obvious high point. Renee Stein’s performance as the mother struggling to come to terms with her son’s sexuality was best described by Rodney as one that exuded an obvious wealth of experience in the theatre world. Finally, my personal favourite, Jeremy LaPalme’s mature and multi-faceted performance as the morally-sound Priest made his scenes the most dynamic parts of the second act for me.
In the end, BARE is an incredibly ambitious show. I was left feeling that it needs some time to become solid in its technical aspects. However, embrace the beautiful script, the amazing vocal talents, and the obvious heart and it’s hard to leave with a dry eye. Yes, it needs to grow, but I’m excited to see what it will turn into. In my humble opinion, BARE is a story that needs to be shared with as many people as possible.
– BARE plays at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until August 1st
– Show times are Wednesday – Saturday at 8 p.m. with 2:00 p.m. matinees on Saturdays
– Tickets range from $20 to $35
– The Box Office can be reached at 416-978-8849
– Limited rush tickets are available the day of the performance at the box office when it opens at 11 a.m.
Photo of BARE cast by Frank Wood