The "bare" Truth

We're still working on programming New Line Theatre's next season. It really is a long, difficult process, trying to fashion a season that hangs together in some way, that includes both something adventurous and something that we're fairly confident will sell well (without, of course, ever violating our mission statement). As is often the case, this time, two of the three shows came pretty easily...

It's been months now that we've had both I Love My Wife, the jazz musical, and Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Shakespearean rock musical, solidly on the list, and I don't think that will change. It's the third slot that's been tough. We've looked at quite a few shows -- The Story of My Life, Ordinary Days, etc. -- all great shows we may do someday, but not exactly the right fit for next season, which will be our 20th!

New York posterBut I think maybe we're coming down the programming home stretch now. We're considering very seriously an exciting, fairly new show called bare: a pop opera. If you're a musical theatre geek and you're under thirty, you already know this show. If you're over thirty, you might not. I didn't.

I'm over 30.

It is what its label-title says: a genuine pop opera, using the structure and devices of opera, but the musical vocabulary of contemporary pop music -- not rock, mind you, pop. I've been wanting to produce Boy George's brilliant Taboo (the rights situation is really complicated), partly because its score is also really pure pop. I love the idea of using pop music for a musical, largely because most people think pop music is simplistic and commercial and not Seriously Artistic. But after working on High Fidelity and really digging deep into the world of pop music, I came out of that show with a new found respect for pop.

bare (and yes, the title is usually lower-case) is about five students grappling with sex, love, and religion in a Catholic high school, with a gay relationship at the center of the story. Everyone may not think it's a masterwork of musical theatre, but it is really good storytelling and really good music. And it taps into the current zeitgeist like few shows ever do. It reminds me a lot of Rent in the way it works, even to a certain extent in its sound. But though Rent's sound was more 1980s pop/rock, the score to bare is more contemporary. Yes, sometimes it's a bit overly sincere, a bit too earnest, but I think that's just this story. That's who these characters are. A slicker, more sophisticated brand of storytelling would be wrong for this story. There is a rawness here (like Rent) that is part of what makes the show work so well and makes it feel so damn authentic.

original NY cast of bareI've Googled the show to find reviews, etc. and what I find is that the show's reviews are often kind of grudgingly complimentary, criticizing individual elements of the show but admitting that the audience loves it and that it is genuinely involving emotionally.

Still, here are a few questions not yet worked out in my fevered brain... First, I wanted to put bare in our March 2011 slot, but everyone seems to agree that if we need 13 college kids and high school seniors (we don't cast anyone under 17), that's gonna be harder during the school year. But if we put bare in our June 2011 slot, then we'll be auditioning it in March, just a couple weeks before starting rehearsals; so if we don't find the right cast, I won't have much time at all to go recruiting, as we often have to do.

Also, despite its cult status, can we indeed find the cast we need, with strong acting chops, great pop voices, and the right physical "types"? One of the two leads is a basketball player, so he has to look like he could be that. One of the secondary leads is an overweight girl, who has to be a great actor and a great comedian and willing to sing a song about herself called "Plain Jane Fat-Ass." And then, of course there's the other question: can we get an audience...? If so, I think bare could be really great for New Line -- we do get a decent audience of that age group for most shows, but really targeting that demographic would be very healthy for New Line, longterm.

I think our recent work in building New Line's Facebook community will help with this, but will it be enough to get the word out as widely as we'll need to? What other things can we do? I've thought about maybe having a contest to make an internet promo video for the show. In fact, I'm thinking of ways to incorporate video into New Line's online experience in general -- it seems to be the one tool we're not really using effectively. I've become a HUGE fan lately of David Siteman Garland, a local guy who's a genius at using social networking and other Web 2.0 tools to build your business -- his daily videos at The Rise to The Top have been incredibly helpful to me. I really want the New Line experience to extend beyond the walls of the physical theatre. I want to keep our fans and supporters involved with us, even between shows. And David's tips are a GODSEND.

And all this connects back to bare. I don't want New Line to become a middle-aged company just because I'm middle-aged now. I want to make sure we keep young performers and young audiences excited about our work and involved in what we're doing. I do have some doubts and concerns about bare but my gut tells me this is exactly the right show at the right time, and it may well accomplish exactly what we've been trying to accomplish lately. And my gut is never wrong. Seriously, like never.

So it's not a done deal yet, but I think we're gonna do bare, most probably auditioning in March, going into rehearsal in early April, and running the month of June. If anyone has any brilliant ideas about getting young people to the audition (there are, by the way, two adult roles as well) and also getting them into the seats, let us know!

And if you haven't already, come be a Fan on Facebook and Twitter!

Long Live the Musical!