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Monday, March 18,2013

Sharps and flats

Strong acting and weak singing make for a ‘pop opera’ that doesn’t always pop

by Paul Wozniak

Friday, Oct. 7 — It was the best of musicals, it was the worst of musicals — and
it lasted two-and-a-half hours. As the debut production of upstart theater
company Touch Your Soul Productions, the pop opera “Bare” deserves commendation
both for its choice of topical material and also for its commitment to producing
the entire project on a shoestring budget.


Centering mostly around two teen boys growing up Catholic
and queer, “Bare” at its best feels like the Off-Broadway amalgamation of “Spring
Awakening” and “Rent,” set at Sister Mary’s “High School Musical.” Show
director and company founder Dennis Corsi and his Michigan State University
student cast deserve ample credit for their hard work, as demonstrated by their
honest and convincing performances, completely free of slipped lines or poor
pacing.


“Bare,” as previously mentioned, is a “pop-opera,” which
means lots and lots of singing. With few exceptions, these actors lack the
necessary vocal support or range to do justice to most of the musical material.
The final result is a strangely inconsistent train ride — highlighting the dramatic
potential of Corsi and his cast while exposing their weaknesses as singers — that
just barely stays on the tracks.


Christopher Robinson and Michal Kolaczkowski play Peter and
Jason, two teens coming out to each other but fearful of telling anyone else.
Erika Moul plays the misunderstood school slut, Ivy (signified by her knee-high
stockings and bare midriff), while Krista Delong plays her sharp-tounged
nemesis, Nadia.


As a script and story alone, “Bare” respectfully displays the
pain and confusion of Peter and Jason searching for answers from a religion
that frustratingly sidesteps their core concerns. Direct questions during
confession are given inadequately theological responses from their priest (Graham
Lundeen), who urges them to ignore the very element shaping their immediate
identities.


Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s book cleverly
integrates Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” into a present-day tragedy,
providing a literary structure lined with sharper dialogue than a Tina Fey
memoir. But “Bare” also insists on being sung, and the music written by Intrabartolo
often lacks a hook or even a consistent melody that one would associate with
the “pop” description. In many songs, Hartmere’s own lyrics sound like the
stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a teenage diary instead of crisp numbers,
giving the show an unfortunate over-explanatory, under-edited quality.


As actors, Robinson and Kolaczkowski have incredible charm
and chemistry that fuels their conflict and the show’s essence. Moul and Delong
spar beautifully with each other, creating moments that are brutally funny and
sadly true. In the featured role of Sister Chantelle, Selame Scarlett confidently
carries the church counterpoint as a take-no-prisoners nun with a heart full of
empathy.


The rest of the cast (15 in total) provide performances far beyond their
glorified chorus duties by nailing brief comic asides and blending perfectly
when singing as a complete ensemble. If only “Bare” was a musical without
solos, duets or trios. But it is.


'Bare'
Touch Your Soul Productions
Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Theater in Snyder-Phillips Hall, MiSU
7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6; 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, and Saturday, Oct. 8; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9
$10 general admission; free for students on Thursday and Sunday; $7 students for Friday and Saturday
Email reservations to ReserveTouchYourSoul@gmail.com
www.touchyoursoulproductions.com

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