For the still-relatively-young form of the rock opera to thrive, producers, directors, and performers have to be willing to risk everything every time out. That’s exactly what Out of the Box Theatre Company has done with Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere’s Bare: A Rock Opera, which plays at Center Stage Theater through November 16. In the course of this expansive musical evening, Catholic boarding school, first love, same-sex attraction, teen pregnancy, rave culture, and even a few big chunks of Romeo and Juliet are depicted through action, minimal dialogue, and well over two dozen pop-rock songs drawn from a wide range of idioms. The story, which concerns the fallout of a love affair between high school students Jason (Tad Murroughs) and Peter (Gabe Reali), has its share of melodramatic and predictable elements, but fine performances from the bright young cast and great support from music director Kacey Link’s quintet make the story well worth following. Each of the 15 other characters brings a different perspective to Jason and Peter’s situation. Some are perceptive, others selfish, and still others insensitive — or maybe just jealous. In the end, it feels as though the real subject of Bare is much more than the gay relationship in the middle; it is also the ripples that the relationship sends through the pair’s whole social network.
Julia Kupiec continues to evolve as an actress and a singer, and Ivy, the transfer student with a past, is another solid role for her. Playing opposite Jason, Ivy’s sexually ambivalent love interest, she pulses with an alternating current, flashing back and forth from positive to negative in reaction to Jason’s mixed signals. Gabe Reali’s Peter, on the other hand, tries to be as steady as the rock after which he is named, but it’s his bad luck to be involved with Jason and to be passing in the school’s seemingly straight world.
Or is it? In “Are You There?,” Peter bonds with Matt (Nicholas Ehlen), another student (and admirer of Ivy) who has seen Peter kiss Jason but who doesn’t let on right away. Peter tells Matt something that confirms what he has seen, and this confidence sets up some of the night’s biggest fireworks.
The way Bare is written, there are two roles that practically beg for show-stealing performances. One is Sister Chantelle, and Miriam Dance-Leavy is excellent and fun loving in the part. But it is Luana Psaros, as Jason’s discontented twin sister Nadia, who takes the biggest risks and reaps the biggest rewards as a result. Matthew Wells, Maddie Sokolove, Julia Seibert, Ashley Forster, Ben Offringa, Jeremy Scharf, Anne Guynn, and Christopher Lee Short also turn in uniformly exciting and professional performances, singing, dancing, and acting throughout what is truly an ensemble show.