bare: A Pop Opera (updated)

by John Stoltenberg


I went back to see Clandestine Arts’ production of Bare last night (February 27) and found the show even more enjoyable than the first time. The quality of  musical numbers and performances had improved overall, and there were some new standouts, such as Ryan Alexander as Lucas rapping “Wonderland” and Kayleigh Marie Brennan as Ivy in her several songs. Most of the tech problems from opening night had been resolved. Lighting was fine given the resources, and the wireless mics had been ditched. There were still a few spots when the volume of the vocals didn’t rise above that of the music track, but simple sound-level tweaking would fix that; in the DC Arts Center’s minuscule black box, the mic’ing was not missed.

The biggest and most enriching shift came in the portrayal of the relationship between the two boyfriends—Peter (Derek Critzer) and Jason (Tyler Everett Adams)—whose star-crossed love story drives the show. Whereas on opening night Peter’s and Jason’s onstage chemistry seemed to start believably and touchingly but then dissipate—such that by the end their big duet “Bare” seemed awkward and unfelt—in the version I revisited there was a connection between the two characters that got deeper and more moving as the show went on and made their song “Bare” a highpoint.

Musicals are Clandestine Arts’ chosen niche. In its brief history this intrepid small company has produced several elsewhere (Rent and Sweeney Todd among them); Bare is its first in DC. On the basis of this area debut, and given the evident improvement I observed within the show’s first week, Clandestine Arts is definitely an emerging company worth watching.

Original review:

A young new theater company called Clandestine Arts has come to town and marked its arrival by tackling the beautifully scored coming out musical bare: A Pop Opera. With a spirited cast of 17 all singing all dancing and an electronic mini orchestra on playback, they’ve staged the inspiring show in the DC Arts Center, that black box in Adams Morgan so intimate that chamber theater there is a squeeze. The results are auspicious if a bit rough around the edges. But more important, Clandestine Arts’ bare bears witness to the very youthful “let’s put on a show we really care about” passion that has sparked every great grown-up theater around.

Producer-director-designer-choreographer Derek Crizer is the multitalented hyphenate behind Clandestine Arts, which he started in Orlando in 2013 and just now launched in DC. Oh, and also, he plays one of Bare’s leads, and he does so with an investment of verve and personal conviction that sets the bar for the entire cast.

bare: A Pop Opera is set in a Catholic boarding school and tells of the romantic entanglements of several students, among them a gay kid, Peter (played by Critzer), who has a boycrush on Jason (Tyler Everett Adams). Jason reciprocates in sexual feelings but, wanting to stay in his straight-acting closet, soon hooks up with Ivy (Kayleigh Marie Brennan). Ivy is a girl whose thin prettiness is envied by the ample Nadia (Brittany Washington) and who in favor of Jason blows off the het kid, Matt (Christopher Rios), who has the hots for her. Along with diverse sexual desires there’s plenty of disappointment of the heart to go around as Peter and Matt are each crushed when Jason scores with Ivy, and Nadia stays ever the lonely girl. It’s a perfect setup of teen angst and lust, in other words, for a delightfully emotion-laden two-act musical.

bare: A Pop Opera began life in 2000 (with book by Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, lyrics by Hartmere, and music by Intrabartolo). A lot has changed since then, conspicuously marriage equality and more options for homoerotic openness, so it’s fair to wonder how a show about two gay boys stands the test of this transformative time. Well, for starters, despite all the epochal changes, young people’s heartbreaks didn’t suddenly disappear. And what the Clandestine Arts production makes compellingly clear is that the heart and soul bared in bare matters just as much now and is as moving as ever.

The musical numbers vary considerably in quality, but there are some absolutely standout performances that are well worth seeing. Prominent among them is the full cast  when they sing as an ensemble; their choral work (props to Musical Director Brandon Heishman)  is consistently gorgeous and a recurring high point of the production. Whatever variables there be in the playing of parts, the whole is really something.

Plus there are noteworthy voices among three women in the cast, each of whom happens to have played their part in some prior production (which may account for how powerfully they each have made their role their own). Early on Washington as heavyset Nadia belts out a song called “Plain Jane Fat Ass” with impressive sass and assurance and pipes worthy of applause. In Act Two we hear Elizabeth Brandon as Claire, Peter’s mother, who, having just learned her boy is gay, delivers a soulful solo called “Warning” beautifully and with heartrending honesty. And then there’s Richelle Lacewell as Sister Chantelle, a nun like none other, hilariously sharp-tongued and wickedly funny. With a singing voice to raise the rafters, Lacewell was clearly an audience fave. She commands the stage whenever she’s on, pretty much stopped the show with “God Don’t Make No Trash,” and would alone be solid reason to check out bare.

Other characters in the storyline include Priest (Heishman) and students Lucas (Ryan Alexander), Tanya (Aerika Saxe), Dian (Amanda Tatum), Alan (Chad Vann), Zach (Stephen Kutzleb), Kyra (Alexandra Guyker), Rory (Abby Glackin), and Ensemble members Morgan DeHart, Alex Lew, and Summer Hill.

The aforementioned rough edges include a lighting plot that leaves actors in the dark a lot, a sound system that could use more oomph (the actors wear wireless mics but often to no advantage), and a few numbers near the end that get pitchy and seem under rehearsed. The set is kind of a charming jumble, though, of garbage cans and planks and cubes that get noisily rearranged between scenes as befits the cast’s engaging “let’s put on a show” esprit. And the costumes are inventive (Lacewell doubled as seamstress).

Suspended overhead is an illuminated cross, and around on the walls are hung colorful abstractions of stained glass—but even leaving religious imagery aside, there’s a nice sense throughout that these players and this company are all in a space worthy of praise.

Running Time: About 2 hours 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Bare: A Pop Opera plays February 26 at 7:30 pm; February 21, 27, and 28 at 7:00 pm; February 22 at 3 pm and  March 1 at 3:00 pm & 7:30 pm at Clandestine Arts performing at The District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC)- 2438 18th Street, in Washington, DC. Tickets are $22 and $18 for DCAC members. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the door.

Here are directions to The District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC)- 2438 18th Street, in Washington, DC.