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Sara Wabrowetz performs during the dress rehearsal of the Renegade Theater Company production of "Things to Ruin," a pop musical revue-style show about what it is like to be young and alive in modern times. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Music in the air, and on stage: two pop musicals duel for Duluth audience

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So you say you’re a fan of musicals that speak to what it is like to be young and alive in modern times. You like a story that bears a familial resemblance to “Spring Awakening” or “Rent.” 

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You prefer musicians with blistered fingertips to those who follow a baton, but you prefer either to a show sans soundtrack.

You’re in luck.

Two pop musicals go live today on local stages within a single mile — and a half-hour of each other. Renegade Theater Company’s production of “Things to Ruin” is a series of self-contained vignettes about life — an old friend pops up in a skin flick, the ignominy of being picked for a dodge ball team, how to succeed in business.

Meanwhile, at The Underground, “Bare: A Pop Opera” has at its base a love story between two high school-aged boys at a Catholic boarding school. Cue issues of hookups, breakups, drug use and pregnancy with an underlying Shakespearean plot.

‘Things to Ruin’

Opens 8 p.m. today; Runs 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Aug. 30

Forget everything you know about plays and plotlines. “Things to Ruin,” written by Joe Iconis, bucks the traditional story arc.

“If a musical is a novel, ‘Things to Ruin’ is a collection of short stories,” said Andy Bennett, Renegade’s director of development. “Each song tells a story, and each song stars a different character. There is no central plot and no characters revisited once they’ve sung their song.”

The show opens with “I was Born This Morning” with its driving rock ’n’ roll beat. “Nerd Love” is a tribute to a special lady with a lazy eye and acne who wears a William Shatner T-shirt. “Nothing gets me hotter than Star Trek, baby, c’mon,” sings the male soloist.

“The War Song” is a sweet-sounding song about a kid with no skills, a terrible SAT score and no future plans. “So, I’m go-oh-oh-oh-ohing to war,” he sings, despite not being patriotic or having “national rage.”

“Things to Ruin” is co-directed and co-choreographed by Evan Kelly and Amber Burns.

Musical revues are trending right now, Bennett said. “Ring of Fire,” a Johnny Cash-themed piece, recently played at The Underground. Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting it Together” and “Side By Side” also fall into this genre.

When the show played at the Zipper Factory in New York City, a reviewer for the New York Times said: “The music … belongs to the mode of ‘Rent’ and of Duncan Sheik’s more vigorous numbers in ‘Spring Awakening,’ but the tunes are sparer, the beats harder.”

Renegade Theater Company’s production has a bit of side flare: There is VIP seating that includes front-row food, drink and table service. The company is encouraging heavy social media usage during the show — so turn off the ringer but continue your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram blasts with the hashtag #T2R. Prizes are available for best post about the show on social media.

‘Bare: A Pop Opera’

Opens 7:30 p.m. today; Runs 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Aug. 23

“Bare” is a Los Angeles-bred coming-of-age musical about teens at a coed Catholic boarding school. Jason and Peter are more than just roommates — and the latter wants to go live with the info. Jason, big man on campus, is less willing to dish.

Meanwhile, the school is in the midst of producing a Shakespeare play, which offers plenty of opportunities for drug-fueled cast parties, casual hookups, messy breakups and unplanned pregnancy.

“It’s a completely honest love story,” said director Bailey Boots, a recent University of Minnesota Duluth theater grad who brought the show to the Playhouse for consideration. “It’s not two people meet, fall in love and get married. You see the struggles, you see the fights, you see everything in its most bare sense, if you will.

“People our age don’t go for the cheesy musical anymore.”

Boots got interested in the show through its soundtrack, which she played part of for Playhouse executive director Christine Seitz while working on “Evita” last summer. Seitz, Boots said, was immediately interested.

More than half of the cast is composed of current UMD students or alum.

While Boots was looking for a music director for the show, she found out that her voice teacher had multiple experiences with “Bare.”

Andy Kust has worked in some capacity on four productions of “Bare” — including one in 2011 at Illusion Theatre in Minneapolis.

In 2013, he worked with the late composer Damon Intrabartolo on editing and proofing the original score.

This is the largest-scale musical production to play at The Underground since it opened, not including “Hairspray,” which was produced by the Duluth Playhouse Children’s Theatre.

“From our perspective, ‘Bare’ will stand on its own,” Pelkey said. “This will be exciting for us to showcase something like this with important issues and with such timeliness. Headline issues are really covered in this musical, which makes us really excited about presenting it to the community.”

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