Left to Right:  Lauren McCombs, Sara Renauer, Blair Boyd, Neill
Robertson, Valerie Hopkins, Phillip Rivera, Robbie Lewis as
Peter, Katie Nuss, Kate Holland, Jamisa Spalding, Gerry
Robertson, Jonathan Porter.  Foreground:  Jason Cooper
as the Priest in bare. Photo courtesy of Pandora Productions.


Book by Jon Hartmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo
Lyrics by Hartmere and Music Intrabartolo
Directed by Michael Drury

A Review by Carlos Manuel

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.

bare, also known as bare: A Pop Opera, first premiered in 2000. Unlike most musicals which have their world premieres in cities known for their musical theatre development (Chicago, La Jolla, Atlanta, Nashville, San Francisco, New York), bare had its world premiere in Hollywood, California, a place known for films, movie stars and oddities, and this is exactly what bareis: an oddity you cannot quite understand. With a book by Jon Harrmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, lyrics by Hartmere, and music by Intrabartolo, bare is actually a rock musical created by two people with very big ideas but very little result.

The music isn’t very “catchy” and the lyrics are quickly forgotten. The structure of this pop opera – I mean, rock musical – follows the structure of musical theatre yet misses important elements within, making it seem overly simple. The characters become almost “stock characters” and the plot is as predictable as any Mexican soap opera. And because its musical elements and styles jump from traditional musical theatre to opera and rock, this work doesn’t quite find its footing, leaving audiences uncertain as to what they are watching.

With all these shortcomings, a company wanting to produce this material must work hard at casting excellent singers and actors who can give the performances of their lives, as well as to distract the audience from what bare as a musical/pop opera/rock musical doesn’t achieve. This is something that Pandora Productions tries hard to accomplish under the direction of Michael J. Drury, who is also the Producing Artistic Director of the company.

The cast is a mix of good actors and good singers, but only sometimes an effective combination of the two. Some cast members – such as Jason Button, Kate Holland, Robbie Lewis, Tymika Prince and Susan McNeese-Lynch – have incredible voices; while others – such as Jason Copper, Amos Dreisbach, Lauren McCombs and Neill Robertson – are outstanding actors. Yet only a few – Kate Holland, Robbie Lewis and Tymika Prince, in particular – managed to be strong on both counts.

The set, designed by Karl Anderson, is clean, practical and extremely effective. Both the lighting design, by Theresa Bagan, and the costumes design, by Donna Lawrence-Downs, are done to near perfection – although I don’t understand why a couple of female cast members wore “black skirts” instead of the pleated plaid skirts, like the rest of the cast members. The props by Katie Blackburn were very authentic, yet the choreography by Christopher Gilbert didn’t really have a meaningful function within the story line or the music; it wasn’t organic but rather felt chaotic and misplaced.

The biggest problem technically was the sound, which from the very first song to the end created a variety of problems. Sometimes the audience couldn’t hear what the actors were singing because the volume was pumped up too high, creating a massive amount of feedback. Other times we couldn’t hear what some actors were saying because their microphones weren’t on or were set at a very low volume, so that lines were missed throughout the performance. The orchestra was at times louder than the singers. These problems proved to be ironic since the underlying theme of this show is “listening” or the fact that characters aren’t listening to each other, which brings about catastrophic consequences at the end. Yet after seeing the show, I still don’t know what the opening number was about because I could not understand a word they were singing; and based on conversations I had with other audience members, I am not alone.

bare isn’t Spring Awakening, a better structured musical, with stronger musical compositions, lyrics, memorable songs and similar message. But while Spring Awakening’s main characters are two straight teenagers (male and female), bare’s two main characters are gay teenagers. Yet, although the plot, the story and the characters are very, very similar, it is important to highlight that barehas a much stronger message. Unfortunately, the message doesn’t quite come through because the creators of the show didn’t quite figure out how to create a coherent musical. For Pandora’s production, the message almost gets lost because of the many problems with the sound and a cast that doesn’t quite overcome the technical problems and muddled format of the book.

A shame, truly, for that message is important and worthwhile: the desperate need for all of us to listen to teenagers, to their cry for help, for understanding, for admission, for acceptance. Despite all its shortcomings as a musical theatre piece, bareis one of those rare oddities where teenagers (gay and straight) empty their souls and become emotionally “bare” on stage. Credit then to Pandora Productions for attempting to share this message with their audience, and here’s hoping it is thoughtfully received, whatever the production’s difficulties.


Book by Jon Hartmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo
Lyrics by Hartmere and Music Intrabartolo
Directed by Michael Drury

May 10-20, 2012

Bingham Theatre at Actors Theatre

Theatre Information Pandora Productions P O Box 4185 Louisville, Kentucky 40204 502.216.5502