Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Bare - The Rock Musical

Book by Jon Hartmere and Damon Introbartolo, music by Damon Inerbartolo, lyrics by Jon Hartmere
Union Theatre, London

Lilly-Jane Young as Ivy, Ross William Wild as Jason and Michael Vinsen as Peter
Ross William Wild as Jason and Michael Vinsen as Peter
Michael Vinsen as Peter, Ross William Wild as Jason and Lilly-Jane Young as Ivy

Bare is set in a Catholic, co-educational boarding school in the USA and starts off in the chapel with an Epiphany service. David Shields has created a splendid ecclesiastical set that can rapidly be varied and is beautifully lit by Tim Deiling with multiple cues to match mood and action.

It begins with the fourth year in chapel making a General Confession and then goes on to reveal what these young people are up to that they couldn’t tell their priest about. Yes, it is all about teenage sexuality. No, I should qualify that, it is about love—and perhaps that extends to God’s love, but gay love especially.

Jason is everyone’s favourite guy and Ross William Wild, who plays him, is suitably dishy. He is attracted to Peter, a much gentler guy who’s known for some time he is gay and who falls for him hook line and sinker. Michael Vinsen captures Pete’s vulnerability of this boy who is ready to commit himself.

Straight-acting Jason, on the other hand, is not ready to risk coming out. Although he leans over Peter and tantalisingly tells him that he has a “baseball bat” in his pants, it seems that, apart from some brief snogging, the relationship never goes much beyond the platonic.

Not so with Ivy (Lilly-Jane Young), who is keen on Jason, and they get it together, to the annoyance of Matt (Dale Evans) who has set his heart on her. Then there is Nadia (Melanie Greaney), Ivy’s roommate. I couldn’t decide whether she had a conventional letch after Jason or a secret longing for Ivy.

Somehow I feel we have been here before, but, as if that weren’t enough, teacher sister Chantelle (Hannah Levane) is producing a school production of Romeo and Juliet and auditions and rehearsal run inparallel with the other action. One great love story presumably intended to be compared with the others, though its an awkward construction doesn’t really match the parallels.

The first act has some lively numbers and the songs are not unattractive in what is largely a sung-through telling. Nadia’s self-descriptive “Plain Jane Fat Ass” gets its laughs but is savagely poignant, but my favourite was a number in which sister Chantelle appears as a glittering, gold-clad Virgin Mary in effect to tell Peter that God loves gays.

That’s a dream, of course, as is the gay wedding that opens the second act, only from dreaming Peter to suddenly find himself replaced by Ivy and the whole thing a nightmare. After that it is not just Peter but the plotting that has problems. When Peter tries to coke out on the phone to his mother, who guesses but doesn’t want to actual hear what he has to tell her, things slow down almost to a halt and there are some further places when a number goes on long after it has made its point.

This is not cutting-edge rock musical; there is something a little old-fashioned about it, though that may be partly to do with American mores. I suspect that this is probably a popular show as a high school musical giving a chance to teach liberal values as well as give the kids some fun.

It is extremely well mounted, probably on a miniscule budget, but that the audience keeps watching and even enjoying this show seems due to the personality and energy of these young performers, an excellent band and the lively choreography of Racky Plews, which ranges from some elongated limbs to some inventive lifts.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton