Duel Reviews: 'bare: A Pop Opera' at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts

Nancy Sasso Janis & Jim Cooper

  • OnStage Connecticut Critics

From Nancy Sasso Janis - 

"(BARE) can very easily hold its own against 'RENT' and 'Spring Awakening'. While it doesn't share the commercial success and notoriety, it definitely soars regarding storyline, music, universal themes and relatable characters. It takes a snapshot of the trials and tribulations of adolescent life." - Todd Santa Maria, Director of "BARE"

Brookfield, CT - So ‘bare: A Pop Opera’ is a show that I knew nothing about, but I was intrigued with the pop opera tagline. I have enjoyed the previous productions I have seen at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, but this one will stay with me for a long time for many reasons. 

The book by Jon Hartmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo with lyrics by Mr. Hartmere and music by Mr. Intrabartolo is heavy on adolescent angst and director/choreographer Todd Santa Maria highlights in his program note its themes of self-discovery, identity and acceptance. The teen-aged characters attending St. Cecelia’s Catholic HS deal with peer pressure, body issues, gender inequalities and ignorance and realize in the end that they absolutely must love one another as articulated in John 13:34. TBTA’s President Lou Okell points out that the sung-through script for ‘bare’ was written more than a decade ago but “the themes it addresses could not be more current” and I would certainly agree.

 Photos by Stephen Cihanek

Photos by Stephen Cihanek

The piece is clearly the perfect showcase for this talented group of young performers gathered by Mr. Santa Maria and his producers Desirae Carle, Janice Gabriel and Nicole Veach. This script absolutely requires a young cast. While these singing actors appeared young enough for their roles, they all had talent beyond their years. 

William Sandercox from Newtown took on the lead role of Peter before he heads to college in the fall. I remembered him as Lysander in ‘A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with NewArts in Newtown, so I was pleased to see that he got to do Shakespeare again when the teens prepare a production of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ His ‘ROCKIN’’ castmate Aidan Petershack joined him onstage in the supporting role of Zack for Mr. Petershack’s Brookfield debut. Both young men have amazing voices that they used well and Mr. Sandercox gave a heartfelt and heartbreaking performance in every way. 

Stephen Moores played Jason, a teen struggling with his sexuality. His TBTA debut was an impressive one. The role of Ivy, a very important one, was played well by Newtown High School grad Victoria Madden in her TBTA debut. Kate Valiska, who I saw in ‘Company’ and ‘Godspell,’ returns to this stage to play Jason’s sister Nadia and she nailed it! Western CT State University student Nathan Clift did well as student Matt Lloyd; other students at St. Cecilia’s included Tyler Carey (as the rapping Lucas,) Andrew Olson, Victoria Rojas, Emily Crebbin, Josie Harding, Sara Gardner and Aia Lopez. 

At the senior citizen final dress rehearsal, the role of the sassy sister, as in nun, was played with plenty of attitude by Loretta Fedrick in her TBTA debut. The character of Sister Chantelle definitely had some of the most memorable (and funny) lines, but also did her share of nurturing.  Mrs. Fedrick, who shares the role with Renee Sutherland, brought some needed comic relief and rocked her “911 Emergency” solo with her back up singing angels played by Ms. Rojas and Ms. Harding. The only other adult members in the cast included Stephen Dickson as the priest and Shannon Denihan in the role of Peter’s mother, Claire. Ms. Gabriel, who also served as fight choreographer for the show, will step out of her producer role to cover the latter role for one performance.  By day she is a Theatre/English teacher at Newtown HS and she gets to work with some former students in this production. 

Mr. Santa Maria directed this piece with lots of loving care and his choreography was effective. The simple set was designed by Robert Lane and Jessica D’Aquila designed the Catholic school wardrobe and a few “Heavenly” pieces. Joyce Flanagan was the musical director and the small band sounded full without overpowering the voices. I had a little trouble understanding some of the lyrics at times, but it may have been because of where I was sitting in the audience. 

There were some parallels to ‘Spring Awakening’ and the students singing “Confession” was the best of them. There was a nice crowd for the free preview, and the seniors did not seem too offended by any of the foul language and adult content. While the tale may have been a bit predictable, the numerous musical numbers drove the action and held our interest until the tear-inducing ending. 

 Photos by Stephen Cihanek

Photos by Stephen Cihanek

‘bare’ is presented with one fifteen minute intermission. The site for tickets warns: “Not intended for young audiences - minimum suggested age 16. Note for parents: Younger audiences members are welcome. Please know that "BARE" includes sensuous dancing, coarse humor, and depictions of alcohol & drug use. With the growing number of opiate deaths in Connecticut, we feel these are important topics for community discussion. Please decide if you are ready to discuss these topics with your student.”


From Jim Cooper - 

“Bare” opened Friday, July 8 at the Brookfield Theater in Brookfield, CT, featuring a lively 16-member cast and, amazingly, a six piece orchestra of keyboard, guitar, bass, viola, flute and percussion (the original orchestration). The cast worked very hard to tell the story of six graduating seniors from a small Catholic boarding school, two of whom struggle with whether they are gay.

The two boys, Peter and Jason, are played ably by William Sandercox and Stephen Moores, who are also apparently roommates. The two contrasting women are Ivy and Nadia. Ivy is the class beauty, played exceptionally well by Victoria Madden. Her roommate Nadia (Kate Valiska) admirably plays the comic foil who is also Jason’s sister.

Sandercox plays Peter as uncertain, but surely gay, while Moores plays Jason as a class leader who is just finding out he is probably gay. Both carry off these roles with aplomb.

The show, by Jon Hartmere, Jr and Damon Intrabartolo, premiered off-Broadway in 2004, and the coming of age and coming out story is not as new nor as persuasive as it was 12 years ago, but director Todd Santa Maria, music director Joyce Flanagan and the entire cast throw themselves energetically into making this an entertainment worth your attention.

The rock ballads and ensemble numbers are more or less generic rock, but some of the solos are excellent, and the choral sound when the ensemble sings as a chorale is astonishingly beautiful. To me, the standout number of the night takes place after Peter calls his mother (Claire) to try to tell her he is gay, but she keeps interrupting him and putting him off, finally hanging up on him. The point was that she knew exactly what he was trying to tell her and sings about it in the poignant ballad “Warning.”

Kate Valiska as Nadia has a lovely and sad little Act I ballad “A Quiet Night at Home,” sung when she was the only one not asked out that evening. Earlier she also has a great comic number, “Plain Jane Fat Ass.” 

 Photos by Stephen Cihanek

Photos by Stephen Cihanek

Ivy, the beauty queen, does not know of Jason and Peter’s attraction and seduces Jason at a drug and alcohol-fueled party where they apparently have sex. She is convincing as a privileged girl as well as the girl who really is attracted to Jason.

Kudos also need to go to Matt, the side-kick character, played ably by Nathan Clift, who is Peter’s confidant and is the first to learn of Peter and Jason’s affair. He sings well and is his acting is outstanding.

Loretta Fedrick as Sister Chantelle (two actresses alternate in this role) has a commanding presence as the drama coach, and sings an amusing Diana Ross parody in a dream sequence, and what would be the 11 o’clock number if it came a bit later in the second act, the gospel-inflected “God Didn’t Make No Trash.”

And Stephen Dickson as the Priest is admirably bland and noncommittal when the characters would have preferred more understanding. Near the end Jason ironically says he “absolves” the priest.

Bare, the musical, has a 16-member cast, 14 of whom are on stage much of the show, singing 36 musical numbers. The work the cast and directors put into learning this huge show is apparent and they all should be praised for their success at this enormous undertaking.

Like most rock shows, this show is miked with all 16 characters wearing body mikes. In a 150-seat theater this shouldn’t be necessary, but these are young voices still learning their craft, and this probably helped balance out their volumes. In one amusing spot, when Ivy takes off her blouse to reveal a very demure bra, she also reveals her transmitter taped to her back. 

“Bare” runs Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm in Brookfield, with Sunday matinees on July 17 and 24th. Tickets are available on line at the Brookfield Theater.