Bare: A Pop Opera

‘Bare: A Pop Opera’ is very much an adult themed, rock musical. ‘Bare’ had its Australian premiere in 2010 at the Sydney Fringe Festival, 10 years after its debut in Los Angeles. The risqué and outspoken lyrics are by Jon Hartmere and the lively score by Damon Intrabartolo, who both collaborated on the original story.

Last year, the ‘Hand in Hand Theatre Company’ was nominated for a Fringe Award. They are determined to raise the bar for the greater arts community and theatre in particular, by giving us quality shows that most groups are too apprehensive or nervous to present. Their team generously welcomes new and existing talent, whilst nurturing the growth of artists by taking them from the mundane, onto rare experiences and challenges.

Justin and Claire Mosel-Crossley are presenting this ‘Hand in Hand Theatre Company’ venture, with co-producer Rhiannon Moon. It can be seen at the Nexus Theatre, situated in Murdoch University near car park 3. With only four performances, the curtain goes up at 7.30 pm until Saturday 24th November.

The scene: is Notre Dame de Grace School, a catholic boarding school in Massachusetts, for boys and girls.

The set: was designed by Clare Talbot. Centre stage is a cream coloured set of marble steps leading to the high altar, with a linen altar cloth and silver crucifix. Behind the altar is the east transept’s large colourful, classic stained glass window (the fine work of Tiffany Banner). Almost on the stage apron, at each side, are sets of school lockers. (Scenery constructed by Julia Parks and Maggie Cope-Thomas).

Injeong Hwang operated Justin Mosel-Crossley’s inspired lighting design. Rhiannon Moon and Kamara Churchill operated the soundscape, designed by Claire Mosel-Crossley. With 16 microphone headsets in operation, and one or two being a little intermittent, Sarah Connolly and James Jury had to work hard on their complex cue sheet.

The numerous entrances and exits were smoothly stage managed by Thomas Wendt and his assistant Sabrina Wyatt. There was one fun prop in the Rave Party scene.

         The hip but shrewd, drama teacher, Sister Chantelle (Mahali Selepe – fabulous) is perturbed by the lack of quality actors auditioning for the school play. Eventually, Jason (Benjamin Albert – very good) outclasses another altar boy, Matt (Michael Surjan – very good) for the part of Romeo. Matt is further upset when the girl of his dreams, Ivy Robinson (Shannon Rogers – super) is then cast as Juliet. Jason’s introverted friend, Peter (Charlie Darlington – wonderful) becomes Mercutio, and Jason’s stroppy twin sister, Nadia (Ivy Halford- great) gets the minor role of the nurse.

      Just after the Priest (Thomas Dimmick) has finished morning Mass, one of the female students, Diane (Emily Bebbington) announces to Zack (Jarvys Mason-McQueen) and Alan (Max Conroy) that there is a ‘bender’ in their group. Devoted to his religion, Peter is horrified, as he is yet to ‘come out of the closet’.

      Lucas (Maximiliano Laffont – wow), the school’s rap singing ‘party drug’ boy, plans a wild rave. Nadia goes to the party with Matt, but, on noticing his attention is permanently on the sexily dressed Ivy, goes home to play her cello.

     At the rave, ‘star’ mover, Rory (Clea Purkis) is dancing with another student (Felix Camponovo), but the crowd’s interest is mainly directed at Peter, who is dancing with Jason and trying to kiss him. After eating ‘special’ cookies, they do embrace, and Matt sees their stolen kiss. Later, Ivy confesses her love for Jason and asks for a birthday kiss.

       Drunk and high, Peter discloses to Matt his feelings for Jason. That night, Peter has a vision of Sister Chantelle dressed as the Virgin Mary, with Tanya (Kiara Macri), Kyra (Tannah Pridmore) and a boy student (Cody Lam) adorned as sexy angels. The Virgin tells Peter that he needs to ‘come out’ to his mother, Claire (Annaliese Lockhart); deep down, she already had her suspicions.

         How will the sexuality confusion turn out?

Choosing actors for a straight play, a director is lucky to get half the cast with above average skills. When faced with a cast of youngsters, having to cope with about three dozen songs, all with catchy tunes, some wild party scenes, daring topics, and dream sequences, Director Claire Mosel-Crossley and her assistant Kamara Churchill have taken the right approach. They have boldly given us a powerful play, with no punches pulled. The actors knew that they had to buckle down to their demanding parts and have given it their all.

The number of songs is a huge number for any musical; so the demand on the leads was gigantic. It is obvious that the Musical Director, Krispin Maesalu – who has a wealth of knowledge with stage musicals – has worked tirelessly with the cast. They were word perfect, all with clear diction and no strained voices, even in the bawdy or rowdy scenes. The words of the songs were adult in content, but many occasions brought fits of laughter.

Krispin’s conducting of the band, always respects the performers. He is one of the few musical directors who keeps the volume at a ‘backing level’, and stops any of his instrumentalists trying to become soloists. We have all experienced poor singers trying to overcome mad drummers or pub pianists.

Great balance, and beautifully accompaniment played by Krispin on flute, and Amanda Reynolds on cello (who was a dubbing soloist, as well as part of the band). The acoustic and electric guitarist was Scott Delamotte, on bass was Meg Vicensoni, keyboard player was Aidan Bridges and on percussion, Jake Isard.

The fight co-ordinator, Zenna Newman-Santos, gave us some very convincing affrays. Although this whole performance, was filled with rough and uncultured teenage expressions, thanks to the fine direction, it still manages have several very poignant moments. The sensitive topic was handled caringly.

The choreographer, Caitlin Wainwright who was assisted by Xarna Rappold, gave us a selection of dance styles, with plenty of novel action.

The Costume Designer was Ellie Hopwood, who, with her tailors Cassie Power and Rosalie Schneider gave us refined religious garments, school uniforms and debauched angels. Well done.

Because of its controversial content – and even in this day and age, a few audience members gasped at the male embrace – this could be a difficult show to promote, but Bobbi Victoria and Xarna Rappold have excelled, and the seats are going well. A strong cast, with fine voices giving the audience a show to remember. VERY well done.

The play’s message: Be careful to whom you bare your soul.