“Jason, you’re flying.” So goes one line from the climactic number of Bare: A Rock Opera, the new show from Out of the Box Theatre Company that opens on November 6 at Center Stage Theater. In a (very) different context, the same could be said of Out of the Box. In just four years, these young performers have turned our own black-box theater into a major resource for audiences who are passionate about the contemporary musical. Starting with Reefer Madness in 2010, Out of the Box has put on 10 shows in four seasons, with two more, Bare and The Wild Party, slotted for 2014-2015. To get an idea of what an accomplishment this is, consider that people unfortunate enough to live in other places often have to travel thousands of miles to catch even one or two of these shows live, while by the end of this year, thanks to Out of the Box, Santa Barbara will have seen 12 of the best new musicals and all within easy range of Eureka! Burger or, if you prefer, Elsie’s. It’s getting to the point where we might have to start calling Out of the Box our civic rock-opera company.
To make it happen, artistic director Samantha Eve combs the ever-expanding universe of innovative, often rock-based small musicals for gems of all description. Her insatiable appetite for challenge has catapulted her into a unique position in the city’s theater scene, and in the process, she has shown a remarkable ability to attract and retain talented performers. From Spring Awakening to Next to Normal and John & Jen and from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Evil Dead to Hair, the range has been wide, and even if some shows didn’t work as well as others, the overall positive impact of the programming both in the theater and on the theater scene has been impossible to deny.
As for Bare, it represents yet another daring move for the group, and it’s daring in more ways than one. Its musical styles run the gamut from pop, rock, and soul to more traditional ballads, and it includes some particularly effective choral and counterpoint songs. The story concerns high school boys who fall in love on vacation and must return to their coed Catholic boarding school, bearing the uneasy twin crosses of their sexual awakening. There’s plenty of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, but there are also substantial helpings of Shakespeare, courtesy of a school production of Romeo and Juliet, and Catholic liturgy, courtesy of the clergy who run the school. Bare has been roaming the countryside since its first incarnation in 2001 in Los Angeles, popping up with striking frequency in both regional and New York productions, each time in a significantly different version.
For this production, Eve is going back to the original script by Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere. “I’m grateful that this happens to be the version that’s being licensed now,” she said last week, adding that this one is sung through in true opera fashion. Kacey Link is the music director who will put the time and energy required into rehearsing these sophisticated vocal arrangements. She has a great cast, including a trio of the city’s hottest young vocalists: Julia Kupiec, Gabe Reali, and Tad Murroughs.
As far as the subject matter is concerned, Eve feels ready for the potential controversy, citing a previous situation by saying, “We had people who were upset by Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson because they thought it was disrespectful to an American president. Did they not read the whole title? What did they expect?” In regard to Bare, Eve observes, “Apart from a few well-known shows, there really isn’t a lot of theater now that’s dealing with same-sex relationships.”
And as for navigating the duets, Eve says that she’s directing “no differently than I would direct any other love scene. I don’t recognize that distinction as important.” She adds, “The boys have a lot more than just love songs — they have songs when they are fighting, songs when they are celebrating, everything. It’s all music.”
In the vein of Spring Awakening and Rent, Bare employs a fairly large (15-member) cast and aims for the same heart-wide-open dynamics that those musicals translated into theater from rock shows. Upon multiple listens to the soundtrack, I can report that, while the songs may not be quite up to the standard of either of these benchmark shows, they are still very accomplished and passionate, and they are bound to be a lot of fun sung live in a small theater. At the core of it all, Eve finds one message coming through loud and clear: “There’s a sense of not being heard that these characters are trying to address. How do you speak up if no one’s listening? This show is about finding your voice.”
Out of the Box Theatre Company presents Bare: A Rock Opera at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo), Thursday, November 6-Sunday, November 16. Call (805) 963-0408 or visit outoftheboxtheatre.org for tickets and info.