Article Title:Review: Bare at Hamilton's Riverlea Theatre
Author or Credit:Jay Bennie
Published on:4th May 2008 - 04:02 pm
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Story ID:5899
Text:An awkward coming of age for Jason (Jordan Mooney) For gay and lesbian teens there are few role models and societal guidelines on how to deal with the complexity of budding same sex relationships. Dating rituals, especially American ones, are so imprisoned in the 'captain of the football team and the pert blonde cheerleader' model that anyone who doesn't fit that scenario just has to blunder through, making it up as they go along. In the American pop opera Bare two Catholic boarding school boys are secretly in love with each other, but tragically they are moving at different speeds through the relationship... Peter is ready to declare his love to the world, Jason has issues. Unless someone offers some sane, sensible advice and support these kids are headed for trouble. Despite some no-nonsense empathy from a teacher, the only other adults - mom and the priest - don't come through. The school play, Romeo and Juliet, and real life start to follow a parallel course and we just know there will be casualties. I have to get this off my chest right up front... this New Zealand premiere production of Bare by Musikmakers is flawed. But it's also entertaining and passionate and, as it beds in after the strictures and strains of opening night last night, it will be well worth seeing. This is a young, dedicated and sometimes very talented cast, and in that lies the strength which pulls this slightly homogenised 'white bread' production through. Bare has passion and commitment and cute boys kissing and a troubled slut and a poignant fat girl and a sassy teacher... stock characters who gel in what is a well balanced ensemble performance. Last night we were treated to fine young voices, delivering some strong solos and powerful choral work, all the while tackling two and a half hours of sung exposition and recitative with only the occasional patch of spoken dialogue. There's enough teenage angst on stage to send the audience home with terminal acne and the complex gay boy on gay boy plot is thankfully performed as unapologetically as it is written. If the two leads, David Marris and Jordan Mooney, don't quite convey the heat at the heart of their attraction they do show us how an asymmetrical affair of the heart is a hollow and troubled thing. If Sara Lynam as the class slut similarly misses the mark when turning up the sexual heat, in a perverse way that makes us feel even more for Ivy when she hits the wall of reality. Alice (just 'Alice') as lonely fat girl Nadia gives us perhaps the most credible person on stage, showing how teenage self-pity can begin to defensively morph into fire and strength of character... if she can hold it together in adult life. Stephanie Christian as Sister Chantelle, despite being a white actress saddled with performing a character laden with black bosomy sass, helps kick the sometimes too even speed of this production into a higher gear. And Michelle Boyd as Peter's mother shows the class and seemingly effortless ability without which amateur musical theatre in New Zealand would be a non-starter. This production's flaws are frustrating if only because they are so easily avoidable. Never let your soloists sing staring down into a textbook... it strangles the voice and the audience loses connection with the face and thence the character's feelings. And when a song delivers a resolution in its final line, make sure your performer hits that line! Break out of unimaginative set piece followed by set piece staging. And please learn the pitfalls of using personal microphones on every performer. For instance, give us strong visual cues to find the singers because the sound system denies us the directional cues provided by a natural voice. Too often last night's audience was searching the densely populated stage to find the next singer. And don't rely totally on the sound system to reach the audience... young as these performers may be they need to project properly, even in the intimate Riverlea Theatre. As they project their voices more they will project their personality and start connecting with every member of the audience, even when the occasional microphone dies. And please, please put your conductor/musical director somewhere the cast can see him... it will pay great dividends. Bare was created in 2000 when mainstream USA was stridently debating the pros and cons of legalised same-sex unions and the Catholic church wrestled almost comically with matters relating to consensual homosexuality (yay!), kiddie-fiddling priests (hiss!) and pre-marital sex (er, um...). Although the fire has gone out of the public rhetoric, the matter of legalised unions in the USA has not gone away, and here in New Zealand it still has some way to go. This show is a melodic and entertaining glimpse at the all too human reality underlying political and pious posturing and for that, and for the performances of these dedicated young performers presenting a demanding piece with gusto, it's well worth seeing. - Jay Bennie Bare By Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo. Musikmakers at Riverlea Theatre, Hamilton. Director:  Renee Casserly Co Director:  Mel Martin Musical Director:  Steve Smith May 3rd - 17th Jay Bennie - 4th May 2008    
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