Since its debut in 2000, Bare has been one of those musicals that just keeps entering the periphery of my radar. The show has developed a huge fanboy and fangirl factor, despite its relatively short New York run, not unlike the cult followings that The Last Five Years or Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party have developed over the years.
But Bare has seemed to transcend even those shows in its ability to make certain musical-theater fans go all gooey in the knees. The show went on to generate a lot of regional productions, so you certainly can't blame the creators for deciding to take another crack at the show, this time with up-and-coming director Stafford Arima.
Well, for me, Bare didn't work before and it certainly doesn't work now, despite extensive revisions. (The show has a book by Jon Hartmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, with lyrics by Hartmere and music by Intrabartolo. The new production features additional songs by Lynne Shankel and Jon Hartmere.) It's interesting that the last show that I saw that was directed by Stafford Arima was Carrie, another angsty teen tragedy with lame attempts at levity. To be fair, though, Carrie has higher highs and lower lows. Bare has always been more temperate in its mediocrity, coming off as a sort of preachy morality play cum after-school special.
It's funny, because Bare actually starts out pretty strong, at least in its current form. At the beginning of the show, the characterizations have a certain richness. The dialog sounds honest, and the relationships are complex. The songs have a hard-driving, melodic appeal, and the lyrics have a truthful feel to them and aren't self-conscious or forced, at least not at first. Act one does feature one significant misstep, when a sassy gospel-singing Virgin Mary appears to one of the leads after he eats cookies laced with marijuana. You could practically hear the book creaking under the strain of the forced comic relief.
Again, Bare starts out reasonably strong. But when the primary motor of the plot kicks in, the show descends into trite melodrama, despite some genuinely moving moments along the way. Bare is essentially about two boys at a Catholic boarding school who fall in love. One of the boys is a popular jock type, and he has significant challenges accepting himself as gay.
But what starts as a believably complex scenario with three-dimensional characters becomes a maudlin pity fest. The characters become characteristics. The lyrics become cliches ("You came and kissed my broken heart"). The scansion gets lazy ("ho-PING," "get-TING") and the syntax becomes reversed ("in you, God was very pleased"). It's almost as though the creators were focusing so hard on getting the first half of the show right that they weren't quite noticing that the rest of the show wasn't going to fix itself.
The current cast of Bare features some talented and promising performers, including Taylor Trensch as Peter, the more...er...sensitive of the central pair of lovers. Trensch has an appealing vulnerable quality, although he did exhibit a tendency to come off as whiny when the stakes were high. Jason Hite as Peter's jock boyfriend, Jason, seems like a talented young man, but the material here forces him to do too much surface emoting and screlting for his characterization to be truly effective.
Again, Bare closes this coming weekend. If you didn't get a chance to catch the show in New York, don't worry. If the show's history is any indication, you should be seeing it sometime soon at an ambitious but misguided theater near you.