A slick production, excellent direction and an incredibly talented cast elevate the material on offer as cult favourite Bare makes a return to the Melbourne stage.
Having played around the world since its 2000 premiere, Bare is best seen in an intimate boutique staging such as this latest gem from creative Melbourne production house StageArt. While adopting the tag Bare the Musical rather than Bare a Pop Opera, the production wisely eschews the changes made to character and plot for the 2012 Off-Broadway revival.
Although the central tension of high school students discovering a gay male relationship is dated to the point of being basically irrelevant, the self-focused turmoil of adolescence is timeless. The concept of frustration at not being heard, crystallised in the final number “No Voice,” is very timely, and director Dean Drieberg has created a powerful final image to go with this song.
While Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s book is wise in its gradual unveiling of character traits during act one, the result is a rather slow pace of storytelling. This is compounded by a general lack of originality. In act two, however, the story really clicks into place, and although there are a couple of soap opera-like twists, it would take a very hard heart not to be affected by the finale.
Providing a vocal highpoint in act two, and pretty much grounding the drama of the entire show, is the superb performance by Mandi Lodge as Claire, well-meaning mother of schoolboy Peter. In the blink of an eye, Lodge switches Claire from a flighty, garrulous ball of nerves to a steel magnolia, racked with pain yet unwilling to be crushed. In an evening of stellar singing. Lodge’s powerhouse belt in “Warning” is the jewel in the crown.
Devastated that his mother refuses to listen and afraid of losing his great love, Peter is calmed by sassy Sister Chantelle. If there is any roof left after Lodge is through, Vanessa Menjivar finishes the job as she gloriously belts out “God Don’t Make No Trash.” Menjivar also scores some very welcome laughs along the way, and her mischievous Whoopi Goldberg smile is just gorgeous.
Drieberg houses the action on an effectively simple set of his own design. The raised stage cures the sightlines of the intimate auditorium, and it just takes two sets of lockers and some chairs to create all the scenes. In a clever and attractive touch, the actual stained glass window of the Chapel (before it became a theatre) is used, lit beautifully by Maddy Seach and Jason Bovaird. The dynamic lighting design raises visual appeal significantly, with a terrific effect of laser floor patterns coming in an early scene where the boarding house students break out to attend a rave.
Costume designer Jodi Hope enhances the realism of the school uniforms with some attractive individual touches. Hope goes to town with the flashy costumes for the student production of Romeo and Juliet, which has an aesthetic inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Kirra Sidel’s choreography has a natural, spontaneous feel and adds to the general vitality of Drieberg’s direction.
Musical director Caleb Garfinkel creates a solid rock sound, and has brought out killer harmonies from the cast. It is difficult to think of a boutique production where all of the singing voices were of such an evenly high standard as they are here. It was a wise decision indeed to allow every cast member to take an individual bow.
Adam di Martino captures the fraught pain of love in the shadows, never letting up on the unease that slowly consumes Peter, and never allowing Peter’s focus to stray from his beloved Jason.
Finn Alexander has a natural charm that makes popular stud Jason impossible to dislike, even when his crippling caution and poor decisions break Peter’s heart.
Hannah McInerney brings out the fascinating dark side of Ivy, colouring the pretty girl who leads a supposedly charmed life as an angry, relentlessly brooding young woman.
Hannah Grondin completely wins over the audience as self-deprecating overweight teen Nadia, a girl who hides a heart of gold behind a surly, uncompromising manner.
Jake Fehily conveys a raw vulnerability in Matt, an average guy who craves attention and affection that do not come his way.
Further highlights include, but are not limited to, Hany Lee’s delightfully dippy Diane and Tom New’s lively, likeable Lucas.
Well deserving of being a cult hit all over again, Bare is an ideal chance for younger theatregoers to connect with the stage.
Bare plays at Chapel off Chapel until 15 April 2018.
Photos: Belinda Strodder