In its opening number, “A Million Miles From Heaven,” I can’t help but wonder if I’m in for a very dark episode of “Glee.” Angst-ridden high school students, poppy asymmetrical choreography (by Emmy Award-winner Travis Wall) and straight-toned hard “r” vocal inflections are familiar ingredients. But this recipe also includes an undeniable heart and soul that manages to transport the audience — at times — to a very real and pulsating place.
“Bare” received accolades in its original Los Angeles production more than a decade ago. This version has been somewhat reimagined by director Stafford Arima, who said in a recent post-show discussion, “I’ve never been involved in a show where the material has spoken so viscerally to the audience. How immediate, needed and essential this story is for people.”
“[The hardest part about directing the show] was to find that balance between the old ‘Bare’ and the new ‘Bare.’ We always kept the original in our peripheral — that production was beloved. When one has that presence there, one has to be respectful in honoring that story. One doesn’t want to disregard the beauty and craft, but we wanted to reinvestigate it for today, but with those possibilities came decisions that were difficult.”
It’s a challenging juxtaposition. The story follows a group of teens wrestling with issues of identity, sexuality and religion at a co-ed Catholic boarding school, particularly focusing on the hidden gay relationship between Jason (played by an earnest and vocally adept Jason Hite) and Peter (played by a nebbish and funny but somewhat emotionally disconnected Taylor Trensch).
Given our pop culture exposure to shows like “Rent” and “Spring Awakening” and the aforementioned hit TV show “Glee,” there were many moments when I asked myself ‘Why do this production now?’ And then the real life news flashes and we see the story of another teen suicide, Jadin Bell, who killed himself after allegedly suffering repeated bullying for being gay.
In “Bare”’s unexpected turn, it is actually the waif-like Peter who summons the strength to embrace and own his sexual orientation while star athlete Jason succumbs to the pressures of a society that he believes is unwilling to acccept his true self. In a heartbreaking duet between the two boys Jason sings, “There’s no such thing as heroes who are queer.” Peter proves him wrong.“Bare” closes Feb. 3
New World Stages
What the critics said…
Regrettably, ‘Bare’ sags from the same overly familiar and narrow focus that worked against it in a developmental version I’d seen in 2004. It seems more than ever stuck in a time warp. The kids on stage may carry iPhones, but the psychology seems rooted in another decade, definitely one pre-‘Glee.’” Daily News
Like a high school counselor with a bucket load of empathy but too few concrete solutions to problems, the director Stafford Arima appears to be specializing in taking troubled teen-angst musicals and trying to smooth out their kinks.” The New York Times
“Though ‘Bare’ has been reworked since its first performance as a sung-through pop-rock opera in 2000, the new production at Off Broadway’s New World Stages feels decidedly old.” Entertainment Weekly