This is how composer Damon Intrabartolo described bare when I interviewed him during the show's world premiere run in 2000 at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles. For want of a better term, Intrabartolo terms the piece a "pop opera" and says that it "draws on a lot of alternative rock textures like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, and Fiona Apple." Aside from its distinctive sound, bare is unique in that the tragic gay love story at its center is wonderfully well integrated with the stories of the boarding school's heterosexual characters. (The show's lyrics are by Jon Hartmere, Jr.)
Buzz on the L.A. production of bare was so phenomenal that rumors of a New York staging began to fly almost immediately; but it's only now that the show has made it here and is set to open at the American Theatre of Actors on April 19. I caught up with Damon over lunch a few days after the first preview performance.
THEATERMANIA: When we first spoke in October 2000, you were 26. So, if I'm doing the math correctly, that means you're probably not yet 30.
DAMON INTRABARTOLO: No, I'm not -- but I'm getting close! I'm looking forward to it. I'd never want to be in my early 20s again. I like wisdom. Not that I have tons of it, but I like it. It's good to not be making the same mistakes I made a few years ago.
TM: Do you live in West Hollywood?
DAMON: Mm-hmm. Good guess! It's not even a gay thing, it's just a beautiful place to live. I like the mountains, the dramatic topography of Southern California. Since our last interview, I've become a private pilot. I fell in love with California again because seeing it from that level -- from 7,000 feet up -- is really amazing. I love to fly to Monterey or San Diego.
TM: Please be careful!
DAMON: I am. Actually, the producers of bare won't let me fly until the show opens. I can do everything else, but they said, "No flying!" I want to go to Teeterboro and rent a plane, but I don't know; the air is heavier here and the air traffic in New York is insane. You have three of the largest airports in the country within a 20-mile radius.
DAMON: I'm enjoying the process because we don't have previews in Los Angeles. On the other hand, shows there aren't usually reviewed right when they open and no one really attends until after the reviews come out, so I guess we had virtual previews for the first two weeks when nobody came. It was humbling; sometimes, there were more people on stage than in the audience.
TM: How does the cast size of the New York production compare with the one in L.A.?
DAMON: We've eliminated four characters and four actors. It was a practical consideration, given the size of the house and Equity restrictions and all that. Ironically, we now have a bigger stage and fewer cast members. I'm finding it interesting that [director] Kristin [Hanggi] hasn't felt obligated to use all of the space; she's keeping the show very intimate and focused. Kristin is one of my artistic soulmates.
TM: Have there been textual changes in the show?
DAMON: Yes. There were things in Los Angeles that Kristin and I felt did not really work. There was a song called "Mother Love" in the Hudson production that has become "911 Emergency" in New York; it's the number where Peter has a vision of the Blessed Mother after his hashish brownie experience. We also changed the beginning of the show to make it more focused and more clear. The whole thing is a little shorter than it was in Los Angeles, which is good; it's just a little over two hours now. The stuff that worked stayed and the stuff that didn't was fixed or cut.
TM: Is anyone from the L.A. cast in the New York production?
DAMON: One person: Jenna Leigh Green, who plays Ivy. She's the girl who falls in love with Jason and ultimately becomes pregnant, which causes the divide between Peter and Jason. Jenna has been with the show since its inception in 1999, so it's great to have her.
TM: When I saw bare in L.A., I found it deeply moving, but I wonder: Are you concerned that the tragic nature of the story might work against the show finding an audience in an open run in New York?
DAMON: I think people like drama and tragedy more than we give them credit for. As long as you honor the audience and respect them in what you're doing, then it works out. West Side Story is one of my favorites shows, and it's incredibly popular even though it's a tragedy. I also love Jesus Christ Superstar and Hedwig [and the Angry Inch].
TM: Bare is a through-composed work. In our previous interview, you stated that dialogue in musicals is "boring." Do you still feel that way?
DAMON: I wouldn't say that now, but I do think it's more dramatically engaging to listen to people singing on stage. I mean, we talk every day but we don't sing all the time, so I just think it's more involving.
TM: Kristin Hanggi also directed the show in L.A. Are you happy with the rest of the team that has been assembled for the New York production?
DAMON: Yes, I can't say enough good things about that -- and I'm not kissing anyone's ass. I'm really picky about producers, as I'm sure everyone knows at this point! The partnership with Michael David and Lauren Mitchell has been the partnership I've dreamed of for this show. They don't want to make it something it's not, but they do want to make it as good as it can possibly be. They're true collaborators in that sense.
DAMON: I think America is at a crossroads. I'm happy that the show is opening in New York now rather than a year and a half ago, when it was supposed to, because gay marriage is in the foreground of the country's consciousness. People are being forced to look at it and they've become very divided, even in urban metropolises like New York and Los Angeles. It's a violent time in many ways; the hatred I hear when I turn on FOX News or even CNN is incredible. When you see bare, I think you leave with more questions than you came in with, and that's a good thing. This is an important time to ask those questions.
TM: Has the content of the show changed at all to reflect the gay marriage controversy?
DAMON: Slightly. There's an allusion to Massachusetts during the fantasy wedding of Peter and Jason at the beginning of the second act. I'm really worried about the dark side of religion. It's so easy to say, "Fuck this, I'm not going to church," but you can never entirely escape your religious demons. That's what bare is all about: "How do I walk the line between being true to my faith and being true to my heart?" I think it's a universal struggle that transcends gay and lesbian America.