StageArt Presents Bare

StageArt lifts the musical Bare to soaring new heights
By Owen James 

StageArt’s latest offering of rarely produced theatre for Melbourne is bold and relevant. Bare explores sexuality and identity in an oppressive world, and while the almost twenty-year-old material is becoming a little dated, given the recent social and political climate both in Australia and worldwide, Bare comes as a timely and pertinent reminder to listen and accept.

There is no better venue for Bare than Chapel Off Chapel. Director Dean Drieberg’s set uses the glorious stained glass window of the church-turned-theatre as the permanent backdrop for the action. This, combined with a large, looming cross suspended above the stage, makes the characters seem microscopic against what’s above.

As Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere’s book puts turbulent teenage emotions in the pressure-cooker setting of a Catholic boarding school, Drieberg has ensured every moment of these characters’ lives is as realistic as possible. Kirra Sibel’s choreography melts seamlessly into Drieberg’s vision, adding clarity and fluidity to this depiction of teenage frustration. And right from the opening song, the cast proves they can keep up with every fast-paced move thrown at them. Special mention to the most inventive use of chairs I’ve ever seen onstage during ‘Wonderland’.

Photographs: Belinda Strodder

It is the choreography and the music of this show that gives the confused and raging hormones of these characters an outlet to scream at their oppressive and irrelevant world. Caleb Garfinkel (Musical Director) has ensured every harmony is brought to life with killer perfection, leading a band that rocks the Chapel through this pulsating, lively score.

Adam Di Martino delivers stunningly perfect vocals as Peter, with never a note out of place. He plays the innocence and vulnerability of Peter beautifully, but for me, fell slightly short of reaching a believable emotional climax towards the end of the second act. Thankfully, Martino’s passionate and soaring high notes are more than enough to provoke tears.

Finn Alexander makes us fall in love with him again and again as Jason. Adored by cast and audience alike, Alexander never puts a foot wrong in his vital role and his charm wins us over (as well as Peter and Ivy) from the opening scene.

Hannah McInerney delivers a moving performance in the very underwritten character of Ivy, and Hannah Grodin as the ignored and overlooked Nadia breaks both smiles and hearts. However, painting both Ivy and Nadia as unredeemed females relying on others for their happiness is problematic and shows the age of the material.

Ivy is yet another female character punished for impulsive actions. Emotionally ignored by characters absorbed in their own problems, she is left alone with burdens beyond her years. McInerney brings Ivy to life with a moving, emotional performance and delightfully smooth vocals. Grodin’s moments of wonderfully rude teenage jealousy are truly hilarious, and she belts out ‘Quiet Night At Home’ with ease.

We do get a strong female character from Vanessa Menjivar as the delightfully sassy Sister Chantelle. Her two numbers, ‘911 Emergency’ and ‘God Don’t Make No Trash’ are each filled with a stirring burst of energy. We want to see much more of Mandi Lodge as Claire, as her brief appearances are affecting and exceptional.

There is not a weak link to be found in this ensemble – as sarcastic, mindlessly doting and judgemental as real adolescents –  they collectively embrace the various stereotypes found in high school and make them unique and believable.

Lighting by Maddy Seach and Jason Bovaird, and sound by Marcello Lo Ricco are faultless, effortlessly transforming the small stage into an oppressive church, school hallway, claustrophobic dormitory and dingy rave.

Having seen Bare three times now, I have come to accept that the original material is at times clunky and melodramatic, briefly dipping into moments reminiscent of The Bold and the Beautiful. However, StageArt’s production lifts the material to soaring new heights, and is definitely worth the ticket. Bare is a must-see for fans of musicals like Spring Awakening, Dear Evan Hansen or RENT, and for any fans of Bare already – this is the best you will ever see this show performed.

Bare plays at Chapel Off Chapel until 15 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.