A cult hit returns to L.A. but does not live up to its hype.
Peter (Payson Lewis) loves his Catholic high-school roommate, Jason (Jonah Platt), but being popular, Jason refuses to go public about his sexuality, to Peter's frustration. Jason attempts a "straight" life by hooking up with pretty Ivy (Pearce). Acting as Greek chorus, Jason's sister (Katie Stevens) satiates her loneliness by cutting herself.
The book by Jon Hartmere and the late Damon Intrabartolo lacks urgency, with thin characterizations and plot points never rising above a musicalized episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. For example, the audience is told in two separate confession-booth scenes that popular Jason fears upsetting the Catholic dogma and being ostracized by kids for being gay. However, this Catholic School seems to be the most liberal campus in the country. The kids go to raves, drink, take drugs, and joke about one another's promiscuity. The priest is a hip, young, unassuming guy, and the nun appears to have practiced at the convent from Sister Act. When the truth is revealed, the other kids seem more pissed for being lied to than for discovering a gay in their midst. As for Jason's strict Catholic beliefs, those are never solidified in the script. The biggest problem is that Jason does not come off compelling enough for Peter and Ivy to love. The play paints him as a coward and a jerk. This production is not benefited by Platt's rather listless characterization.
Some of the melodies by Intrabartolo are pretty, particularly the title song, a tender number between the two boys in love, but too many sound like Rent wannabes. The number "No Voice" ends the show with a feeling that they will all break into "No Day Like Today." The trite lyrics by Hartmere lack poetry. Thirty-five songs also make for a very long evening.
Director Calvin Remsberg should never have allowed his cast to ignore diction and enunciation. It is true that teenagers do talk into their sleeves, but it is aggravating trying to figure out what is happening. After years of listening to the original cast album, seeing those songs in the context of a production makes it apparent that they were not orchestrated to handle the live stage. A song like "You & I," with quick singing dialogue, gets lost as actors trip over the tongue-twisting lines while attempting basic blocking. The microphones that turn on too late or low to catch their lines do not help the actors.
There are scenes that work beautifully. The scene in Act 2 between Peter and his mother, when he tries to come out only for her to cut him off, is tear-jerking. Alissa-Nicole Koblentz perfectly portrays a woman confronted with the truth she already knows but who would rather disappoint her son than face him as something other than the little boy in her mind. Payson Lewis, vulnerable in his solo numbers, ensures that the audience cares about his isolation and heartbreak. Stephanie Andersen, from the original cast, hits a sassy rendition of "God Don't Make No Trash" out of the park.
When Glee needed to knock the grande dame Rachel Berry down a peg or two, they put her face to face with future Broadway competition, a scrappy sophomore who can tap and hit a note like Ethel Merman. Very few could shame the great Ego Berry, but Lindsay Pearce, mashing up to Merman hits "Anything Goes" and "Anything You Can Do" left Berry's mouth agape. Pearce is a secret weapon and bare's most valuable asset. As Ivy, the cocky party girl who grows up too fast after a one-night stand, Pearce does not attack the songs; she merely lets the emotions flow out of her. Her naturalistic approach to the character gives Ivy a maturity and tenderness missing in the script.
bare bridges the musical rock opera from Rent to Spring Awakening and American Idiot. When thinking about these three other daring shows, bare feels rickety and antiquated.