After what has been a pretty great year, Marrickville's Depot Theatre saved the most ambitious production for last. Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere's Bare, which premiered sixteen years ago at L.A.'s Hudson Theatre, is a rock opera in the purest sense - a story told in song where even the scattered spoken parts have a certain rhythm and musicality, and a flamboyant love story that tells of a motley crew of students at a Catholic High School and their various relationships with God.
The two leads of Bare are Peter and Jason (Aaron Robuck and Alex Jeans ), the former well-liked but often fading into the background in social situations, and the latter the school star and noted overachiever. They also happen to be madly in love, a fact that Jason does not want to become public knowledge. As the end of their last year at school approaches, the reality of their relationship starts to intrude on their romantic idyll, contrasted and confounded with the trials of their fellow students.
While at times it feels slightly like the production is too outsized for the modest theatre space - soaring vocals are muddled by echo - that can be easily forgiven in the face of what the production gets right. The choreography and staging is so tight, thoughtful and inventive that it is almost cinematic, particularly in brilliant dream sequences that punctuate the production. Director and choreographer Hannah Barn has shown a keen understanding of how to manipulate space for maximum effectiveness.
The cast assembled here is blindingly talented, each with powerful voices that invest the songs with just the right amount of light and shade. The two leads complement each other very well, with Robuck indulging in delectable musical theatre excess and Jeans showing a more artfully hesitant style. The two standouts of the cast, though, are Natalie Abbott as Jason's sister Nadia, and Annette Vitetta as brusque nun Sister Chantelle. Though many of Vitetta's lines are spoken, she proves herself to be one of the most effortless and funniest performers, and Abbott is similarly hilarious but also hugely affecting using her stunning pipes to portray the deeply insecure Nadia.
The actual narrative itself seems secondary to the performance, and how you feel about the story arc will depend on if you feel tragedy and romance can coexist. The production, much of it based around a school production of Romeo & Juliet, is heavily indebted to Shakespeare's immortal tale of star-crossed lovers. But particularly when it comes to queer love stories, tragedy can be tricky ground to tread, and for that reason Bare may prove divisive.
Overall, Bare delivers emotional heft and a huge amount of catchy tunes that will still be making the rounds in your head the following day. The Depot Theatre and Supply Evolution should be applauded for the ambition on display here, and the determination to bring this cult theatre work to Sydney audiences. Despite its few shortcomings, it feels like a totally genuine production full of passion and contagious enthusiasm.
Bare is on at Marrickville's Depot Theatre until Saturday December 17th. See the Sydney Scoop calendar for details.