It’s no fault of the cast or director Damon Dering that Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s pop opera trips on its own beard. But it’s not unfair to wonder why Dering, whose taste is typically keen, chose such a hackneyed property to wind up his company’s 17th season.
The reason for this artistic oversight may be Dering’s long friendship with Intrabartolo, which he mentions each night in his curtain speech (arguably the best part of any Nearly Naked production). It might be Dering’s own story, similar in many ways to those of the kids in this opera, that persuaded him to foist upon us the story of gay Catholic schoolkids struggling with coming out and pleasing the Lord.
Still. In the early 21st century, one makes Romeo and Juliet the play-within-a-play about young, star-crossed lovers at one’s own risk. Ditto the “sassy” black nun who turns up in a dream sequence as a soul-singing Virgin Mary. Certainly, religious teens continue to struggle with sex and sexuality. Chubby girls are excluded from cliques. Loose girls are shunned and wind up pregnant. But Bare’s predictable story and simple score don’t make anything old seem new again.
It’s Glee, with the teen angst cranked way up.
Dering’s work is exceptional. His calisthenic set changes are quick and tidy, and his ensemble’s sometimes thin performances are tucked neatly behind a handful of powerhouses. There’s Johnna Watson, who nails the now-tired role of promiscuous, misunderstood schoolgirl and whose solo at the top of Act Two is a stunner. And there’s Alyssa Lucero, excellent as an embittered outcast with a heart of gold. And most especially Kristi Rice, whose gorgeous performance of “Warning” belongs to another production.
The chemistry between Romeos Cole Brackney Wandelear and Brandon Hayes is sufficiently sexy, and Curtis Moeller’s live band, hidden behind Paul Wilson’s faux-stained-glass backdrop, adds some energy to Intrabartolo’s conventional compositions. But neither story nor setting can overcome a giant pile of hackneyed and overused musical-theater tricks. Bare might benefit from a raincoat.
Bare continues through June 11 at Phoenix Theatre, 100 East McDowell Road. Call 602-254-2151 or visit nearlynakedtheatre.org.