Review: Bare, Union ✭✭✭

Imagine a combination of Bat Boy, Buffy, Glee and Cruel Intentions. Remove any irony or wit and replace with the problem pages of a teen magazine. Over bake and intensify in a steamy oven for 2 hours and you’ll have Bare, the rock musical.

But, the music isn’t particularly rocky, or very good. Fortunately the band, with exciting and sensitive musical direction from Huw Evans, successfully distract from Damon Intrabartolo’s bland, atonal score – sincere ballad after sincere ballad. Jon Hartmere’s lyrics are at their best when they scan well and at their worst when borrowed directly from Romeo and Juliet, drawing a frankly offensive comparison between the narratives. The metatheatricality does not enrich or intensify the themes of forbidden love, but instead draws further attention to the show’s inherent weaknesses.

Michael Vinsen deserves 5 stars for his performance as 17 year-old Peter.

But no more of that, because this is a very strong and enjoyable (if slightly too serious) production. Paul Taylor-Mills has probably delivered the best production of this musical to date, expertly ‘polishing the turd.’

The young cast are stonking, performing with unabashed enthusiasm. Believing and investing in every angst fuelled line, they deliver explosive choreography, impassioned (and alarmingly erotic) clinches and powerful ensemble singing. Michael Vinsen deserves 5 stars for his performance as 17 year-old Peter. Vinsen commands attention, not only for his vocals but for his uniquely expressive acting through song. Particularly impressive is the fraught duet in which Peter makes a desperate attempt to reveal his sexuality to his mother (played by Yvette Robinson), who is unwilling to listen.

Ross William Wild, (reminiscent of Freddy Prinze Jr in his prime) delivers a compelling, filmic performance as Jason, Peter’s closet boyfriend and the boarding school’s ‘Romeo.’ Hannah Levane plays the stern yet empathetic Sister Chantelle. Lavane’s rendition of God Don’t Make no Trash, a much needed injection of joy amidst the grunge, is sung so well that, on press night, the audience exchanged glances of approval.

The Union Theatre have made a brave but brilliant move by hosting the European Premier of this cult musical – a reminder that London’s fringe, often saturated with revivals, is still gutsy enough to embrace bold experimentation and to produce challenging material. In its final few months prior to demolition, The Union is living each day as its last and will be sorely missed if it cannot be saved.

As for Bare, let us bury it in the Musical Theatre Graveyard (alongside Carrie), and say no more.

***(3 stars)
Runs until 25th May
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