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Review: 'bare: a pop opera'

A gut-wrenching musical of star crossed lovers


The seniors at St. Cecilia's Boarding School are putting on a production of "Romeo & Juliet" at the end of the year, which makes perfect sense because "bare: a pop opera" offers its own pair of star crossed lovers: Peter (Brian Saice) and Jason (Jayson Speters). In this emotionally wrenching show that opened Thursday night at the Underground, all is not well and all does not end well.

Peter wants to be open about their relationship, even if he has not explicitly come out to his mother, but Jason is afraid of derailing his family life and college plans. Same sex marriage might be a tidal wave slowly but surely sweeping the nation, but two gay kids at a Catholic school are not going to be able to go to the prom together.

Saice cuts a most sympathetic figure, earnest in his desire to be public about his love for Jason, and able to deliver vocals that are both full power vocals ("Role of a Lifetime") and emotionally powerful ("See Me"). Speters character takes longer for his emotions to get to the surface, but they do, most memorably in "Once Upon a Time."

Elise Benson's Ivy is cast as Juliet and when she falls for her leading man, things go from bad to worst. The score gives Ivy a whole arc of duets about falling in love, but what you will remember is her emotionally devastating solo number, "All Grown Up."

You know that Jason's sister, Nadia (Jessica Illaug) marches to her own drums, since she has turned the school's mandatory maroon tie into a headband. As the outsider in the group, she provides caustic perspective, and Illaug shine both with the bawdy "Plain Jane Fat Ass" and the poignant "A Quiet Night at Home."

Unfortunately, director Bailey Boots's production is afflicted with recurring sound problems: microphones going in and out, sometimes the band and other times the singers winning the battle of the sound mix, and some general acoustic issues. This is maddening because there are few musical shows where the lyrics are as important as this one.

Your typical opera, sung in Italian, is all about the fury of sounds and emotions, not the language of the libretto. But in "bare" Jon Hartmere, Jr.'s lyrics are of vital importance, more so than Damon Intrabartolo's music. The lyrics play off of the language associated with sex and religion, drama in general and Shakespeare's play in particular, with shades of double meaning, Freudian slips and full throttle innuendos.

Additionally, like any good opera, these songs advance the narrative and expose the characters, rather than being frozen moments in the plot encapsulating emotional outbursts. The second act is a cascade of emotional explosions as events set off a chain reaction leading to one gut wrenching song after another.

Beyond the students, the three adults roles have their moments. Meliita Wright as Sister Chantelle ("God Don't Make No Trash), Zach Winkler as Father Mike ("Cross"), and especially Kendra Carlson as Peter's mother, Claire, who wants to deny the truth about her son ("Warning").

You might not feel good at the end of this show, which holds true to the Shakespearean dictum that all are punish'd.  But, what is important, is that this show will make you feel.

LAWRANCE BERNABO would list (3) the last appearance on Johnny Carson, (2) "Dead Poet Society" and (1) the invention of golf as his top three Robin Williams memories. 

If you go:
  • · What: "bare: a pop opera"
  • · Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
  • · When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, and August 21-23
  • · Tickets:  $16 adults, $12 students at (218) 733-7555