Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s Bare: A Pop Opera premiered in 2000, but sadly, the story around homophobia and religious control still bears relevance today. The story opens with two teenage boys; Peter, played by Daniel Mack Shand. and Jason, played by Darragh Cowley, who fall in love at their Catholic boarding school. Shrouded in shame and confusion, the boys hide their feelings from the world.
Like the boy’s relationship, this musical gets off to a rocky start. Firstly, there are some sound issues – vocals are drowned out by the band, so it’s difficult to catch what the ensemble are singing about, which unfortunately loses a lot of scene-setting. Overall, vocals start off weak – it’s evident that Mack Shand is a talented actor, but his vocals take a while to warm up. Meanwhile, Cowley begins a little flat – both in voice and in character. It doesn’t help that the score is especially uninspiring; chock-full of self-indulgent ballads from the mouths of privileged white teenagers, without enough comedy to lift the mood. Nevertheless, Lucas, played by Bradley Connor helps switch the tone a little with his rap section about drugs, and the dynamic ensemble choreography by Stuart Rogers in the rave scene is exciting – especially in a venue like the Vaults, with an underground club vibe.
The female characters easily showcase the best vocals, with highlights from Georgie Lovatt playing Jason’s sister, Nadia in her solo song, Quiet Night at Home, and Lizzie Emery playing Ivy with her solo songs, Touch My Soul and All Grown Up. Thankfully, near the end of act one and throughout act two, we are introduced to the brilliant Sister Chantelle/Gospel-style Mother Mary played by Stacy Francis, who not only delivers strong vocals, the catchiest songs and sassiest dance moves, but killer one-liners, too – a highlight is her light mocking of students with a lack of rhythm: “White, two, three, white, two, three” – which is met with a howl from the audience. Francis and the ensemble lift the whole musical off its feet, especially in act two, which is injected with a bit of life.
However, most of the songs fall flat. Peter’s song with his mother, played by Jo Napthine, is there to tug at the heart strings as Peter struggles to tell her that he’s gay – but it just comes across shouty and predictable. Nevertheless, Mack Shand’s acting is stand-out and the love between him and Cowley’s Jason becomes more believable as the show ensues.
SR Productions’ Bare: A Pop Opera has moments of brilliance with some strong vocals, ensemble scenes and tender moments, but unfortunately, it’s not enough to bring this musical to life.