TIMES OF SAN DIEGO
The shocking , incendiary — and frequently banned – Frank Wedekind play, “Spring Awakening,” was written in 1890. Its Tony Award-winning musical adaptation debuted on Broadway in 2006. Between the two, premiering Off Broadway in 2000, is “bare: a pop opera.”
All three penetrating stage works shine a spotlight on high school students coming of age: struggling with identity, sexuality and misguidance from adults. Both stories include bullying, insecurity, teen pregnancy, suicide and homosexuality. But the latter, backgrounded in “Spring Awakening,” takes center stage in “bare.” Oh, and drugs rear their ugly, modern-day head.
Another difference: “ Spring ” is brilliant and unique. “ bare ” is interesting and disturbing, but not ground-breaking. The score for “Spring Awakening” (Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater ) was all internal monologue, a mesmerizing departure from the typical musical. There’s an intense, poetic subtlety that doesn’t appear in “bare,” where the songs (music by Damon Intrabartolo , lyrics by Jon Hartmere ; both wrote the book) mostly comment on and sometimes forward the action, occasionally reflecting Peter’s dreams and fantasies. Perhaps, as it’s said, comparisons are odious. There’s no denying that “bare” is getting a fine production at Diversionary Theatre.
Peter is an altar boy at St. Cecilia’s boarding school, and his roommate, Jason, is the Golden Boy: jock, chick-magnet and valedictorian-to-be. Theirs is a long-term, clandestine romance, but Peter is ready to emerge from the dorm closet.
Meanwhile, promiscuous Ivy has her eye on Jason, and tattletale Matt has his heart set on Ivy. Jason’s plus-sized, sarcastic twin, Nadia, is tired of being demeaned and ignored. These chaotic relationship arrangements are played out in the school drama production, “Romeo and Juliet,” where Jason and Ivy are cast as the star-crossed lovers, with Peter as Mercutio, Matt as Tybalt and Nadia as The Nurse (“Of course,” she scoffs. “Why can’t the fat girl play Juliet?”). Several songs are adroitly composed to the text (“Pilgrim’s Hands” is particularly lovely).
There’s a range of experience, skill, projection and articulatory clarity in the young cast, but overall, they do an energetic, enthusiastic job with the piece, punctuated by Michael Mizerany’s lively choreography. Director Noah Longton keeps the pace peppy, though the show is longer than it warrants. Longton has assembled an engaging ensemble, with excellent work from the leads: strong-voiced, earnest Dylan Mulvaney as Peter, hunky Charlie Gange as Jason, perky Katie Sapper as Ivy, geeky-looking Mitchell Connelly as Matt and saucily snarky Samantha Vesco as Nadia.
Most of the singing is solid, though the gospel and Supremes numbers could be more potent, and the priest and nun roles more robust. The four-piece band (led by music director Tony Houck) ramps up the energy, especially in the rock-inflected songs.
The set (Michael Von Hoffman), with its stained glass that turns rainbow-hued, lighting (Luke Olson), and costumes (Peter Herman) are modest but effective.
Teenage angst and tragedy are timeless. Parents and teachers never understand (though Sister Chantelle does well here for Peter); and kids don’t ever seem to grasp the consequences of their often-impulsive acts. Life is a learning curve, on and off the stage.
“ bare : a pop opera” runs through August 3, at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights
Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm
Running Time: 2.5 hrs ,
Tickets ($27-$55) are at 619-220-0097 ; www.diversionary.org
©2014 PAT LAUNER