I've Never Been This Bare

Well, we got bare opened. It was a tough Hell Week (though we've had far worse), not because of problems really, just the complexity and enormity of what we've taken on. bare is a hell of an ambitious show to undertake, and I now I understand why there are so many bad productions of it on YouTube. It's a show that requires much hard work, lots of figuring out, and incredible talent and intelligence from its cast.

But the show has come together so beautifully. Every single performance is so interesting, so authentic, so honest, so skillful, so artful. And now the reviews are coming in (which I'll post when they're all in, but meanwhile, you can see them on our Reviews webpage) and they're all pretty much raves. Two reviewers called our show "a must-see" and one called it "the kind of experience that absolutely defines modern musical theatre." Not too shabby, huh?

I wasn't sure what audiences would think of this deeply emotional, funny, sad, vulgar, rowdy piece of rock theatre. But I think all those elements create a weird kind of balance that makes this brilliant show work so well for such a wide audience. The funny balances the sad, the vulgar balances the sentimental, the personal balances the political. And then there's the gorgeous, fresh, surprising music, truly like nothing I've heard before in a musical.

We've realized that everyone in the audience can find a character in the show to relate to, whether it's the closeted gay boy, the anxious mother, the defensive "fat girl," the despised "slutty girl," the boy who loves too much but is never loved in returned... Haven't we all been one or more of those? And not just in high school...

I think the show's power also comes from its unblinkingly honest look at religion and other contemporary institutions (education, family, etc.) and how those institutions are failing us. As we gear up for another Presidential election and the Religious Right returns to the spotlight, could it finally be time to reassess the destructive role of religion in our culture? Sure, bare was first produced in 2000, but it's more relevant now than at any other time since it was created. With battles over textbooks and creationism, gay marriage, abortion, and so much more, religious extremists are doing great damage to our great nation, and bare shows us that destruction on a very personal level.

Of course, more than anything else, the power of bare comes from the incredibly talented and intelligent cast we've assembled, all of whom are getting accolades in the various reviews. I've never been a fan of the soap opera acting on the otherwise great 2007 recording of bare, and I've seen some amazingly awful productions on YouTube, so it was doubly important to me that honest, truthful acting take precedence over everything else, including the music.

And boy, has this cast delivered, from the brilliant, subtly shaded, emotional performances of our leads Mike Dowdy and Jake Golliher, who break our hearts every night, to their supporting players: Terrie Carolan who goes through so many intense emotions every night as Ivy; Charlotte Byrd, who paints a subtle, brilliant portrait of both Nadia's cynical shell and her deeply vulnerable inside; and Jonathan Foster, as the intense, ever-ignored, hopeless romantic Matt who lashes out at his closest friends. When Jonathan and Dowdy harmonize every night on "Are You There?" the sound is so glorious you just want them to sing the damn song again...! Same with Jonathan and Terrie on "Portrait of a Girl" and also Dowdy and Jake on "bare"...

And then there's our fascinating, endlessly inventive ensemble, all of whom have totally honest, fully-drawn, utterly individual characters as well as killer voices (which you can hear on many short solos throughout the show) and who blend on the choral stuff like they've been singing together all their lives. The choral work in the finale is literally breathtaking. And on top of that, their acting is impeccable, never a false note, never a pulled focus, never anything but full-out honesty onstage.

And let's not forget the "adults" -- Alison Helmer in yet another sad, soulful role as Peter's mother, who generates a lot of tears every night with "See Me" and "Warning;" and Zak Farmer who is a model of minimalist intensity as the Priest; and Nikki Glenn who stops the show every night -- twice -- with both "911 Emergency" (in full Virgin Mary drag) and "God Don't Make No Trash."

Oh yeah, and our kick-ass band who has conquered this very challenging score, all the while trying desperately to keep the volume down just enough to let the voices take prominence (and that's not easy for a six-piece rock band!). A big shout-out to Justin Smolik (our pianist and conductor), Mike Bauer, Dave Hall, Clancy Newell, Aaron Doerr, and Sue Goldford. I always love at curtain call when the cast gestures to the band and the whole audience goes crazy for them!

(By the way, Aaron Doerr, our rhythm guitar player, and Sarah Wilson, our sound designer, have both started blogs about the show as well. You can access theirs along with the rest of ours, on New Line's Blog Page.)

What an experience this has been -- incredibly meaningful and powerful, like very few other shows -- and how awesome that audiences and reviewers are all responding to this beautiful piece so powerfully and so positively.

To all those theatre people who periodically proclaim that musicals aren't "real theatre," I offer a hearty fuck you and offer up bare as exhibit A. This is what theatre is supposed to be, folks.

Long Live the Musical!