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Monday, 13 June 2011 22:44

School daze

Written by Bob Wilcox
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newlinetheatre.com/Jill Ritter Lindberg
newlinetheatre.com/Jill Ritter Lindberg

Bare makes me feel old. Young people seem to find the musical moving and exciting. Even some people approaching my state of decrepitude have said good things about it, comparing it to Spring Awakening.

But as I watched the opening scene, I thought, oh my, here we go again. Gay boys suffering through a Catholic high school, torn apart by guilt and desire. One of them – Mike Dowdy, at last getting the leading role he deserves in this New Line Theatre production – may agonize, but he has no doubts that he is gay. The other – Jacob Golliher, as handsome as his popular character should be, a fine actor, a little limited as a vocalist – isn't ready to stick to boys. He succumbs readily to the advances of the prettiest girl, another deserved leading role, this one for Terrie Carolan.

 

 

After a couple of close encounters between the two of them, I thought, OK, we have the gay adolescent angst, surely the book writers, Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, who also wrote lyrics and music, will spare us that other cliché.

 

 

Nope. They didn't. She was.

 

 

Now, nothing is inherently wrong with retelling old stories or using old narrative devices. The most genuinely moving moment in Grease is Rizzo's song when she thinks she's pregnant. Teen pregnancy may be an overused story, but Rizzo makes it hers. I never got the sense that the young people in Bare were having experiences that were new and fresh because they were theirs. The show doesn't risk taking us some place we haven't been before.

 

 

I don't think the fault is the production's. Fine performances fill the large cast. Especially good are Charlotte Byrd as the handsome boy's chubby sister, defending herself with her intelligence and wit; Jonathan Foster as the would-be rival for the pretty girl who actually eavesdrops on a conversation between the two boys and later drops the bomb – another cliché that I thought we'd left behind with 19th century melodrama; Nikki Glenn as smart and sympathetic Sister Chantelle and no mean singer (notice that the sister is the one who really deals with students' problems, not the priest, who avoids them); and Alison Helmer as the mother of one of the boys – and who gets some lovely outfits from costume designer Thom Crain.

 

 

Scott Miller, the production's director, says that he has “been continually blown away by the sophistication, craft, and complexity of the bare score.” I certainly yield to Miller in his superior knowledge of music and of this score in particular. But to me, on only one hearing, it sounded, apart from a few lovely passages, very much like a number of other rock musicals.

 

 

Miller as director has some smart ideas for using Todd Schaefer's minimal set, a chapel's raised altar table and some wooden frames, with lighting by Kenneth Zinkl and sound by Sarah Wilson. Justin Smolik leads the band from a piano that is sometimes a little too loud for the singers, who must also contend with a slightly distorting audio system. Perhaps had I understood more of the words, I would have liked the show better – and joined the majority.

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