“Bare: a pop opera” well worth the trip to Simi

A community review from Steve Moritsugu

If you are not familiar with Bare: a pop opera, please don’t be put off by its title.  “Bare” refers to the bare emotions of a group of high school students in a Catholic boarding school. Damon Intrabartolo, the show’s creator, won an L.A. Drama Critics Award in 2001 for the book and music of this musical/pop opera. At the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center last weekend, I found a fantastic cast bringing to life the beautiful music, teenage angst, and heartfelt passion of this work, in one of the best productions that I have seen.

Simi valleyThe plot centers around two main characters struggling with being gay.  Andrew Allen is cast perfectly as Jason. From his first entrance, he has the smile and confidence of the “golden boy” that all the girls want to date and all the guys admire. Allen’s background as a dancer for a cruise line shows in the smooth dancing moves he shows off in this production. His character is afraid that people will find out about his feelings for Peter, played engagingly by Julian Comeau.  Thanks to Comeau’s work, one of the high points of this musical centers around the scene where Peter calls his mom to finally tell her that he is gay. The scene moves from one musically perfect moment to the next, using different musical themes to build an intense arc of shattering emotions.

Heather Dudenbostel plays Peter’s mother Claire, bringing vocal power in the telephone scene equal to the studio album.  Dudenbostel’s timing was excellent during her spoken responses, exactly fitting her son’s next singing entrance, so the audience could hear both sides of the phone conversation in the show. After Claire hangs up the phone to keep from hearing what her son wants to say, she sings a powerful aria that describes her struggle to accept her son as he is, instead holding onto her memories of how he was before.

Julia Williams plays unattractive Nadia, Jason’s sister, with a tough-girl swagger. In one scene, she sings about how left out she feels as she practices the cello on stage, in an homage to Gilbert and Sullivan’s plain Jane playing the cello in Patience. (Chris McCarty is credited as the cello player in the back stage orchestra.)

The other characters and ensemble get their moments to shine, and do not disappoint. Nadia’s roommate Ivy, played by Hunter Larsen, is a gorgeous girl who the guys just use and forget. Ivy falls for Jason, not knowing his denial in being gay.  Matt, who loves Ivy and knows why Jason does not return Ivy’s affection, is played sensitively by Tyler Vess. Michael Heimos plays the priest who guides all these students spiritually, and his words will sound authentic to any who grew up Catholic. His secure, easy tenor sound gets a voice in one short number. A notable performance by Brittney Wheeler brings the character of Sister Chantelle to life.

The sound system is very good, with no distortion. As always, clearer enunciation would help the audience understand more of the text, but enough comes through to get the job done. Some intelligent accommodations have been made for the leads that allow them to sing difficult vocal parts with great beauty, accuracy of pitch, and emotional intensity.

The choreography and stage direction make the most of a small set in an intimate space. Each cast member has moves that are energetic, individual to their character, and flow with the current scene. While the author doesn’t want applause in order to maintain the dramatic tension, you’ll certainly be moved and want to give your applause by the end of the show.

This production is at the Simi Valley Cultural Center until February 16, 2014.

Click here for details and ticket information.

Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights