Socially distanced onstage and masked, the company in UMD’s ‘bare” had to find new ways to employ their craft, since only their eyes were visible, and they could neither touch or even get too close to their fellow actors.
Kudos to Thomas Jacobsen, director and music director, and choreographer Matthew Wagner, for helping their cast members find new ways to express themselves, with their acting and dance stylized with lyrical grace and symbolic movement to fit the restrictions of staying true to COVID protocols.
Evoking moments of the musicals “Spring Awakening” and the more comic “Do Black Patent Shoes Really Reflect Up?” “bare” explores some familiar themes of gay love, parental conflicts, bullying, drugs, and suicide, with the intriguing overlay of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Shakespeare’s classic tale of young, doomed love dovetails with the stories of the musical’s Catholic high school students in rehearsal for the play. Even some of Shakespeare’s lines are incorporated cleverly in the lyrics of some of the songs.
Telling the story of a hidden love, also doomed, between two boys Peter (Jake Nelson) and Jason (Christopher Hoffman) is the heart of the story. Trying to keep their love secret from their fellow students, their parents, a priest, and the watchful eye of Sister Chantelle, is a high wire act that is destined to fail.
Nelson and Hoffman are spot on in their portrayals of the geeky, shy and innocent Peter, and Jason, the gregarious, swaggering jock who has girls following in his wake. Both their songs together and their solos are gorgeously sung with emotion and poignancy. Both used their expressive eyes as a meaningful part of their journey throughout the show.
Jenessa Iverson as Ivy, the girl who comes between the two boys, shows how even the prettiest girl in school may have real depth and be more than just the “portrait” people see in her. Iverson used body language and her beautiful voice to bring Ivy to heart-wrenching life.
Daylen Moore, playing Nadia, Jason’s twin sister, was the standout of the show, with her mature and commanding voice coming through crystal clear, even from behind her mask. Whether in her comic lamentations or soul-searching ballads, she was vocally and emotionally rock solid.
At times, however, for particularly some of the supporting players, the masks did interfere with clarity. Using subtitles in the exclusively streamed performance may have helped audiences with lyrics in a show that was probably new to most. The full company harmonies were still, however, absolutely stunning in several spots throughout the production.
I couldn’t stop thinking, though, as I watched the show on my computer at home, how much I would have loved to see it again with a live audience inside Marshall Performing Arts Center and a COVID-free world outside.
I wanted to see the actors’ faces reflecting the unbounded joys and crushing heartaches of young love, to hear their voices unmuffled, and to be a part of the enthusiastic applause and standing ovation that they would have so richly deserved.
If You “Go”
What: “bare,” a pop-opera presented by UMD Theatre Department
Music by Damon Intrabartolo and Lyrics by Jon Hartmere
When: Live streamed only April 30, May 1 & May 2 at 7:30 pm
Tickets: Register for a free stream pass at umd.booktix.com
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the News Tribune.