Coming from the same realm of new rock and pop musicals as “Spring Awakening” and “RENT,” the Melodramatics’ production of “bare: A Pop Opera” attracts audiences with its modern pop score and angst-filled plot. Playing at the Risley Theatre at Cornell University, “bare” succeeds with its scene-stealing vocal performances and powerful acting.
The story revolves around a Catholic boarding school and a group of seniors. Though many of the characters evolve throughout the show, the primary focus is on Peter (senior Jeremy Ehlinger), a closeted gay teen who is struggling to find a way to come out. At the same time, another closeted gay student, Jason (Dan Middleditch), whom Peter has developed a sexual relationship with, also begins to struggle with his own issues of sexuality, causing strife between the two.
With both boys struggling to figure out what they want, their relationship becomes complicated, and other students begin to become involved through acts of cuckolding, betrayal and indignity. An addition to the complication is fellow student Ivy (freshman Emily Behrmann-Fowler), who begins to draw Jason away from Peter and cause him to question his sexuality even further.
The cast brings the energy and emotion of the story to life. Even within the ensemble, the actors never cease to bring believability to their roles, which causes the audience to sympathize with them as the tragic and serious situations unfold.
Among the leading roles, Ehlinger’s shines above the rest with his flawless vocal performance and strong acting. He brilliantly establishes his relationship with Middleditch to the point of total audience engagement. Middleditch, despite occasionally lacking energy in his acting, makes up for it fully with a memorable vocal performance.
Junior Kathryn Allison, who plays Sister Chantelle, a nun at the Catholic school, stands out with her powerhouse vocal performance in her solo songs as well as her heartfelt moments with Ehlinger. Behrmann-Fowler also shines with her memorable vocals and emotionally convincing acting.
The technical aspects of the show also shine in some ways. Senior Pascale Florestal’s choreography — though relatively simplistic — is mesmerizing and tight while adaptive to the small performance space.
Cornell junior Spencer Whale’s direction generally succeeds, however it does contain flaws — the stage direction is highly cluttered in the small space of the theater. Some high points of the direction include the spot-on casting and the emotional work that Whale brings out with some of his staging in key scenes, such as in the show’s climax.
While it is performing all over the country, the show has gone through much growth, and a revised version, titled “bare the musical,” is currently being performed off-Broadway.
With outstanding vocal performances and emotional believability throughout from the cast, “bare: A Pop Opera” will certainly entertain audiences. Though its mature subject matter may not make it appropriate for all, it is fine for any person high school age and above. Overall, “bare’s” compelling storyline is riddled with depth and combines masterfully with its pop-rock score to produce a work that is enthralling, engaging and a definite must-see.
Overall rating: 2 ½ stars
“bare: A Pop Opera” will run until Nov. 11 at Risley Theatre at Cornell University. Tickets are $10-15.