The confusion, elation and heartbreak of secret love propels Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s powerful, provocative melodrama “Bare: A Pop Opera,” commendably presented in a student-produced production inside the Black Box Theatre of Sinclair Community College.
At St. Cecelia’s co-ed Catholic boarding school, popular Jason (Bobby Mitchum) and timid Peter (A.J. Breslin) choose to keep their passionate relationship private. They can’t seem to overcome strict religious doctrine, administrative wariness, parental passiveness, and the unpredictability of their fellow students basically driven by sex, drugs and ridicule. Still, considering the lengths society has taken to be more LGBT-friendly since “Bare” premiered Off-Broadway 10 years ago, Jason and Peter’s predicament feels dated and slightly forced. Even so, the core theme of true love attempting to endure in the face of adversity and personal reticence still resonates throughout this sung-through affair fluidly helmed by guest director Chris Harmon.
Mitchum and Breslin, passing the crucial test of being compatible as believably bonded soul mates, are equally terrific in emotionally demanding roles that find both very honest and vulnerable. Mitchum, in fantastic voice, effortlessly balances Jason’s natural charm and ugly shadiness, particularly as situations turn against him beyond his control in the more dramatically fulfilling Act 2. The wonderfully sensitive Breslin, a standout last season in Sinclair’s “A Shayna Maidel,” offers an excellent evolution as Peter openly comes to terms with his sexuality despite specific indifference from his mother Claire (Kira Miller). “Best Kept Secret,” “Ever After,” and the title tune are among the songs that receive heartfelt treatments from this fine duo.
Additionally, Natalie Sanders delivers one of her strongest performances as the loose, immature Ivy, who stars opposite Jason in the school production of “Romeo and Juliet” and falls in love with him unaware of his attachment to Peter. In Act 2, Sanders, who also provides efficient scenic design, delivers a knockout, full-throttle rendition of “All Grown Up” that places her in the running as Dayton’s equivalent to Idina Menzel. Anna Sheldon also shines as the humorous, harsh Nadia, Jason’s sister and Ivy’s nemesis. Stephanie Radford is an appealing fit as the kindly, sassy Sister Chantelle, the school drama director and Peter’s source of encouragement. Greyson Calvert (Matt), Skyler McNeely (Priest), Woody Hieb (Lucas), and Hayley Penchoff (Diane) are admirably firm in featured roles. Amber Butler, Jennifer Smith, Brooke Watson, Andre Tomlinson, David Brandt, Bryana Bentley, and Matt Poliachik complete the cohesive cast.
Harmon’s artistic vision is particularly accented by David McKibben’s apt music direction, choreographer Rodney Veal’s flavorful routines, Heather Johnson’s suitable costumes, and Marissa Childress’ splendidly evocative, introspective lighting.
“Bare” doesn’t break new ground and feels startlingly unresolved, but it’s a thought-provoking showcase signifying the importance of tolerance.
“Bare: A Pop Opera” concludes Sat. Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre, Building 2, Sinclair Community College, 444 W. Third. St., Dayton. The production is performed in 2 hours and 20 minutes including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $15. Patrons are advised the show continues adult language and themes. For tickets or more information, call (937) 512-2808 or visit www.sinclair.edu/tickets