Review: Bare (The Depot Theatre)

supplyevolutionVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 17, 2016
Book: Jon Hartmere, Damon Intrabartolo
Lyrics: Jon Hartmere
Music: Damon Intrabartolo
Director/Choreographer: Hannah Barn
Cast: Aaron Robuck, Sophie Perkins, Alex Jeans, Natalie Abbott, Timothy Langan, Teale Howie, Alexandra Lewtas, Caroline Oayda, Matt Laird, Stephanie McKenna, Ibrahim Matar, Tara Hanrahan, Annette Vitetta, Penny Larkins, Gavin Leahy

Theatre review
The musical is set in a Catholic high school. Peter and Jason are secret lovers struggling to come to terms with their gay relationship and the identity markers that will inevitably become a matter of controversy given the social context. It is an age-old story, but one that bears repeating. Our religious institutions remain unkind to those who do not conform to their narrow definition of acceptable sexual behaviour, and Bare‘s response is still important, even if its story offers little that would be refreshing for the twenty-first century.

Hannah Barn’s direction of the piece pays strong attention to the show’s emotive qualities. Every melodramatic flourish is amplified to passionately drive its point, and to captivate. The more humorous portions of the musical seem to be neglected, which results in a production that can feel slightly unvarying and predictable, but there is plenty of dynamism to be found in the music. Musical director Matthew Reid does wonders with his 8-piece band, providing injections of energy whenever required, and calibrating atmosphere with remarkable sensitivity throughout, but sound design, especially in the first half, needs to be refined.

It is a very committed cast of performers that take to the stage. Alex Jeans and Aaron Robuck play their leading parts with integrity, and even though their interpretations of characters can feel somewhat one-dimensional, both young men tell their stories with impressive enthusiasm. Along with Jeans and Robuck, accomplished singing by Natalie Abbott and Penny Larkins give the production a surprising polish that reflects a good level of professionalism and admirable devotion to the time-honoured craft of musical theatre.

Bare is yet another work that documents the struggle of gay men in a society that refuses to accept them as equals. We have heard it all before, but we must not stop telling these tales of oppression as long as the cruelty persists. For some of us, progressive political movements have brought us better lives, but for many others, the chains of injustice are a daily reality. We might like to think of ourselves as first world civilisations, but if we have children living in fear and in some tragic cases, taking their lives, our complacency has to take responsibility.

Review: Bring It On (Supply Evolution)

bringitonVenue: NIDA Parade Theatres (Sydney NSW), June 27 – July 9, 2015
Music: Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lyrics: Amanda Green, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Libretto: Jeff Whitty
Director: Rod Herbert
Choreographers: Melissa McKenzie, Tracey Rasmussen
Cast: Isaac Bradley, Sophie Carol, Jaime Hadwen, Justin Hitchcock, Kat Hoyos, Timothy Langan, Alexandra Lewtas, Henry Moss, Ashley Power, Kirsty Sturgess, Temujin Tera, Jessica Van Wyk, Nicole Vella,

Theatre review
Cashing in on the success of the 2000 film, the Bring It On musical first premièred in the USA in 2011. The work retains characters and dramatics of the original, but unlike the film soundtrack, which featured a best-selling collection of memorable songs, compositions for the stage version are never quite as catchy. Its writing feels generic, almost paint-by-numbers, obviously created for the Broadway stage where it had played for less than half a year.

Direction for this Sydney production is similarly predictable. Rod Herbert puts effort into getting things right, with a desire to emulate a certain idea of conventional musical theatre, rather than focussing on real moments on stage that could develop personalities and relationships for us to become engaged with. There is a lot of hullabaloo, but very little magic, with performances that often look like play-acting that never go beyond the surface, and a humour that is rarely effective beyond the plainly cheesy context. On a brighter note, the show is well-rehearsed. Except for several instances of cheer stunts not achieving their target, the cast always seems energetic and in confident stride.

The role of Danielle is played by Kat Hoyos, whose presence is strongest in the very large cast, and who comes closest to a performance that contains some quality of authenticity. Her vocals do not live up to the demanding material, but she looks and feels the part, and we believe the personal narrative she conveys. Male members of the cast play smaller supporting roles, but Isaac Bradley, Temujin Tera and Henry Moss bring flashes of sparkle to the stage with their respective solos. Bradley and Tera impress with their rap sequences in the opening of Act Two, and Moss belts out convincing notes in his several show stoppers. Also a very big voice is leading lady Alex Lewtas, who sings her numbers well, but we never quite believe the Campbell she portrays. Her approach is too simplistic, with more than a hint of Disney, and the important elements of duplicity and sinisterness that accompany her saccharine sweetness fail to take hold.

Scenic design is too understated for a brash work like Bring It On, but Benjamin Brockman’s lights are a good effort at making up for its shortfalls. Brockman’s work is key to the depiction of time and scene transitions, and he provides surprise, emotion and an overall glossiness, to a staging that can easily turn hollow. It is to the production’s great credit that a live band is utilised for the performance, but sound design is inconsistent, and the show never quite affects us with sufficient power, on a sonic level.

No matter how formulaic a creation, tales of the underdog can always move an audience. We want the small guy with the big heart to come out on top, because it is easy to identify with the ones who struggle. This musical aims high but does not reach far enough. Ambition should not be discouraged, and there is no room in the arts for the tall poppy syndrome. The sky is the limit, and the only way for all, is up.