New World Stages
340 West 50th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Through February 3, $92.50
Bare has been around since October 2000, appearing in various versions around the world, usually billed as a pop opera. But in its latest incarnation, it has been transformed into a straightforward musical, presented by an energetic cast in an extremely entertaining production. The story takes place in St. Cecilia’s co-ed boarding school, where the shy, nerdy Peter (Taylor Trensch) has fallen for beautiful blond basketball star Jason (Jason Hite). While Peter is not ashamed of being gay, Jason is determined to hide their secret relationship, no matter the cost. Wanting to spend more time with Peter, Jason auditions for the school production of Romeo and Juliet, run by the controversial Sister Joan (Missi Pyle), who tends to bend the rules when it comes to certain religious practices, which does not make Father Mike (Jerold E. Solomon) happy. Soon jealousy and envy take center stage as Jason is cast as Romeo opposite supposed slut Ivy (Elizabeth Judd), who Matt (Gerard Canonico) thinks he is dating, while Jason’s sister, wry, cynical drug dealer Nadia (Barrett Wilbert Weed), has the hots for Matt. Comic relief is provided by Alice Lee as ditzy Asian Valley Girl Diane and Alex Wyse as Alan, the only Jew at St. Cecilia’s. Jon Hartmere, who wrote the original book and lyrics, has updated the show, with Lynne Shankel adding new songs to Damon Intrabartolo’s score to make the show more relevant to current events.
Director Stafford Arima (Carrie, Altar Boyz) and choreographer Travis Wall (All the Right Moves) keep things moving fast on Donyale Werle’s hip set as the company performs such numbers as “A Million Miles from Heaven,” “Drive You Out of Your Mind,” “Kiss Your Broken Heart,” and “Pilgrims’ Hands.” One of the new songs, “Hail Mary,” is meant to be a showstopper, with Pyle portraying Mother Mary camping it up in a Vegas-style romp, but although it revs up the audience, it ends up detracting from the developing story. Otherwise, the first act unfolds beautifully, with well-developed characters and a smart use of Shakespeare’s classic romance as it relates to what is going on between Peter, Jason, Matt, Ivy, and Nadia. The shorter second act is not quite as crisp, wandering too much as it tries to make its points about forbidden love and religion, still not quite there after all these years. An engaging night of theater, Bare continues at New World Stages through February 3. There are various ways to get tickets besides buying them in advance, including $26.50 same-day general rush, “30 at 30” $30 tickets available thirty minutes before showtime for people under thirty, and “20at20” $20 tickets twenty minutes prior to curtain.