Union Theatre, London
Book by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo
Music by Damon Intrabartolo
Lyrics by Jon Hartmere
Directed by Paul Taylor-Mills
|(l-r) Lily-Jane Young, Michael Vincent, Melanie Greaney|
London's Union Theatre hosts the European premiere of bare (sic), a show that first hit Broadway some 13 years ago. Set in a private and stifling Catholic high school in Massachusetts built upon a rectangle of adolescent relationships and desires (rather than the more typical triangle), it is a passionate dissection of the angst of youth.
Peter and Jason are schoolboys in love with each other and the production elegantly thrusts their uncertainties as to how to address their sexuality into the spotlight. Ivy, the beautiful willowy blond is in love with Jason though she herself is desired by Matt, whilst Nadia, Jason's overweight sister, despises Ivy for her beauty and struggles with her own self image. It's a complicated cocktail, yet Hartman and Intrabartolo avoid cliche, in creating a story that addresses the fears, confusions and prejudices of growing up.
Michael Vinson and Ross William Wild are the boys at the show's core. Whilst their acting is carefully crafted, their vocal presence is muted and they fail to convince the audience of the chemistry of their love. Vinson does however shine, agonisingly, in See Me a song set around a telephone call with his mother, beautifully performed by Yvette Robinson. His struggle to tell her he is gay, whilst she on the other end of the phone line is quietly breaking down at confronting what she has known but denied to herself for so long, is heartbreaking.
Melanie Greaney's overweight Nadia, in A Quiet Night At Home, plaintively sings of the hurt of being overlooked and ignored through being "fat". Janis Ian nailed that sentiment in her 1970’s hit At Seventeen and Greaney’s performance reminds us how timeless that cruel agony can be. Lily-Jane Young as the trophy blonde Ivy delivers a cri de coeur in Reputation Stain'd. She sings of her low self esteem, a consequence of having been used as a sexual plaything by too many boys. The irony of Nadia’s envy of the miserable blonde who outwardly appears to have it all, is clear.
It is left to Hannah Levane's Sister Chantelle to deliver the simply knockout performance of the night. Levane has previously toured in Sister Act so her credentials for being a belting whooping “Aretha Franklin” in a nun’s habit are impeccable . She more than meets expectations and her presence and strength of voice and character are beautifully realised. She is also the only adult who shows true compassion and care to the struggling Peter, with one of the best lines written in modern times: "there's a black woman inside the soul of every gay man"
Racky Plews’ choreography again extracts powerful and imaginative routines from her well drilled cast, using the compact space of the Union to its best for a production that at times seems to have the theatre bursting at the seams.
It may have taken a long time for bare to cross the Atlantic but it has been worth the wait, although Paul Taylor-Mills needs to get more from his leading men if they are to make us share their passion and pain in this unmic'd production. The show is a cautionary tale of growing up that serves as a useful point of contemporary reference to children, their parents and their educators. It is also a thoroughly modern piece of musical theatre that is for the most part superbly performed and one that with a little more work could yet prove to be a 5 star show, worthy of a longer run in a larger venue.
Runs to May 25