“Our priority is to do things that matter, first and foremost,” said MUSKET producer and LSA senior Alexandra Niforos about the first show of the MUSKET season. “BARE: A Pop Opera” is directed by SMTD senior James Harbaugh Jr. with music and book by Damon Intrabartolo (“Dreamgirls”) and lyrics and book by Jon Hartmere (“The Upside”).
“There are so many stories that haven’t been told that need to be,” Niforos said. “We have such a great platform to share these stories with the Ann Arbor community. Why would we not?”
The story of “BARE” is one that begs to be heard. The pop opera follows a group of students at a Catholic boarding school as they grapple with issues of sexuality, identity and the future. Like its characters, “BARE” is a musical that strays from the status quo. Unlike similar musicals that stick to a strictly-pop score, “BARE”’s music is heavily influenced by rock. Additionally, it focuses on themes that are not often found in contemporary musical theatre.
“Musical theatre in general does not have a strong history with LGBTQ protogatonists — let alone more than one,” Niforos said.
“BARE”’s protagonists are Peter, portrayed by SMTD sophomore Andrew Cekala, and Jason, portrayed by SMTD sophomore Nicholas Kraft, two students at the Catholic school that have fallen in love with eachother. Unlike popular musicals that MUSKET has produced in the past, such as “Legally Blonde” and “Cabaret,” “BARE” never made it to Broadway.
But as Niforos explained “(We’re) eager to bring it back now. This show is more relevant than ever.” With themes as political as the ones present in “BARE,” acting in this musical has proved to be challenging.
“Playing a character that lacks empathy is hard. As an actor, you have to try to empathize with the character, so you can still see him as a human. My character doesn’t wake up in the morning and say ‘Oh, I am going to be mean today,’ and I need to recognize that,” said freshman Business student Jason Donaven, who portrays the priest in “BARE.”
“I never thought I would have such an emotional attachment to the show,” Donaven said.
It seems that he is not the only cast member to feel this way.
“There have been numerous rehearsals where everyone in the room is crying because of how beautiful this show is. Even the toughest guy in the room is in tears,”said SMTD junior Sarah Juliano, who portrays Nadia, Jason’s twin sister. The production team has worked to help aid in the emotional turmoil this show brings out in its actors.
“Before every run all the cast and production team will stand in a circle and hold hands and do a breath in and out. And afterward we’ll do it the same way. We are acknowledging the people’s stories on behalf of what we’re telling and it’s for the people’s voices who don’t have an outlet about the specific story we’re telling,” Juliano explained.
However, not all the content of “BARE” is heartbreaking. In fact, Juliano’s favorite song to perform in the show is “Plain Jane Fat Ass.” “It is fun, and I get to be silly! My character beats herself up during the song,” Juliano said. “She ridicules her appearance before anyone else can, which is something a lot of us do,”
“Whenever you do a show, you’re excited to make a product and to tell the story. Getting to have this experience and make this story is a dream come true. I am just happy to be here,” Juliano said.
As far as preparing to watch the show, Juliano recommends recognizing that the content of the show is heavy. “You will be affected,” she said.
At a talk back after the Nov. 23 show, audience members will get a chance to discuss the heavy themes. Present at this talk will be director James Harbaugh Jr., music director and SMTD sophomore Andrew Gerace, SMTD Prof. Jason DeBord (music director for “Bare: The Musical”) and Reverend Matthew Lukens (Rev. Canterbury House).
“I think it’s a show that begs to be talked about,” Niforos said. “I don’t think the curtain closes and we’re just done. It provokes a dialogue, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to open that dialogue up.”
The stories that “BARE” brings to the table are equally as powerful as they are delicate. They deserve to be listened to. So, come listen.
“BARE” will air at the Power Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. and Nov 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students and $11 for adults, and can be bought at the Michigan Union Ticket Office (located in Michigan League Underground) or online at MUSKET’s website.