This is a very busy couple of weeks for theatre in Toronto. The press releases and opening night invites have been arriving fast and furious and tragically there just isn’t enough time to give each the attention they deserve. One very last minute announcement is for a production of Bare: A Pop Opera. The title is catchy, the poster tantalizing and though the producing company and the cast are unfamiliar, the press release bounces with enthusiasm.
Liz McLoughlin, a member of the Woodsworth Performing Arts Collective (WolfPAC) who are producing, quickly to responds to my query, “the show centers around a group of high school students in a Catholic boarding school. The director, Lanndis de Lallo, chose to do this show as our inaugural musical because she believes that the theme of religion versus self-identity is one that will encourage conversation and introspection. It’s also an important topic to broach within an artistic medium when considering the challenges faced by queer youth in Toronto, especially those still in high school.”
She also adds, “This show is really important because of the writer and composer, Damon Intrabartolo. He was a gay composer, orchestrator and conductor and I feel like representation of his work is another important aspect of this production.”
A bit of googling reveals that Bare, which debuted in 2000, has had many productions and is one of those cult musicals that pops up Off-Broadway and even Medicine Hat (last in Toronto in 2009) to win acclaim and converts. The YouTube video selections suffer from terrible sound but what there is seems catchy and energetic. Intrabartolo was well-known, particularly for his conducting of the scores to genre great from Halloween H2O to Superman Returns, and beloved by the theatre community. Tragically he did die at only 39 in 2013.
Bare revolves around two rebellious gay students in a Catholic high school who struggle with their passions and lust while performing in a production of Romeo and Juliet. They attend a rave, experiment sexually and, as musicals are wont to do, have their dreams and nightmares come to life as big song and dance numbers. WolfPAC has assembled a cast of 20 so there will be vocal power to spare though McLoughlin is careful to add, “This show is very much a labour of love for the cast and production team. We're a student-run company that was started this year by myself and five other University of Toronto students. We chose to do Bare because it is not only personally important to many of our company's members (myself included, I am a Sexual Diversity Studies student at U of T, as well as a queer woman) but also allows us to bring to light a lot of issues that are still very relevant in this day and age.”
There are only four performances of Bare and while the political motives for this production may be strong, the selling point is really the duets between the boys (we so rarely get to see that), numbers titled “Plain Jane Fat Ass,” “Reputation Stain’d,” “Queen Mab” and “Birthday, Bitch!,” scary nuns, and a calypso visitation from what appear to be disco angels.
Bare: A Pop Opera runs Thurs, March 12 to Sat, March 14 at the Robert Gill Theatre, 214 College St. woodsworthpac.ca