As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything, and Friday marks a big first for Stage Left Theater.
The first musical to be produced in the space, “Bare: A Pop Opera,” directed by Troy Nickerson, opens and runs through June 16.
“Bare” follows a group of students at a Catholic boarding school as they struggle with sexuality, identity and their futures, all the while trying to put on a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” led by drama teacher Sister Chantelle (Alyssa Day).
There’s Jason (Scott Miller), the jock, who is in a secret relationship with Peter (Brady Magruder), who is grappling with the decision to come out, especially to his mother Claire (Abbey Crawford).
Then there’s Nadia (Haley McDaniel), Jason’s overweight twin sister. Matt (Jerrod Galles) has a thing for Ivy (Isabella Mesenbrink), but Ivy, while drunk at a party, sets her sights on Jason.
The events that follow change the course of each student’s life.
“When you say all that, it can sound contrived, but the musical does not feel that way,” Nickerson said. “It deals with these things because they’re there and they’re honest.”
The musical features a book by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, lyrics by Hartmere and music by Intrabartolo.
“Bare,” which premiered in Los Angeles in 2000 and Off-Broadway in 2004, was revised as “Bare: The Musical” in 2012.
Many of the characters appeared in the revision, but some storylines were altered.
“They changed it completely,” Nickerson said. “It lost all of what I loved about it.”
The revision was ultimately not as well-received as “Bare: A Pop Opera,” though it was been produced around the world since its debut, including productions in Amsterdam, Melbourne, Brisbane and São Paulo last year.
Nickerson was introduced to “Bare: A Pop Opera” after a friend, actor Robby French, sent him the soundtrack.
Nickerson instantly fell in love with the music and listened to the soundtrack over and over again. But over the years, as he devoted his attention to other projects, he forgot about “Bare.”
It wasn’t until, in recent years, young performer after young performer expressed interest in performing in the musical that he began to working on staging a production.
“Spokane is so full of young talent and this show gets to showcase that,” Nickerson said.
Though there are small amounts of dialogue throughout “Bare,” most of the show is sung.
Nickerson praises the cast for tackling the intricate harmonies and for being open with their emotions and willing to experience and express them.
He said this is his first time working with a majority of the cast and that “Bare” is the first time two of the cast members have appeared onstage.
Throughout the rehearsal process, Nickerson and the cast have talked about the show’s heavier themes, sharing their own experiences in an attempt to understand what their characters are going through.
“(Young people) really want to have projects and things to do that are deep and meaningful and about their lives,” Nickerson said. “Plus, I think right now in the world and the way it’s going right now, I think telling these stories, telling stories of compassion and what it’s like when kids are not supported, what can happen, it’s so important that these stories are told right now.”
The first night of the performance sold out weeks ago, a sign that the community agrees with Nickerson.
For instance, Nickerson said, being gay has become more accepted by young people, but there is still a long way for society to go until those who are gay are not looked at as if they’re less than.
“We still haven’t reached the end of this, which years ago that might have been my hope, maybe the story wouldn’t need to be told anymore but I definitely think that’s not the case,” he said.
There are lighter moments to balance the heavy themes, though Nickerson hopes those powerful moments lead to more conversations about things like sexuality and suicide.
He’s felt firsthand how the act of speaking up helps and hopes “Bare” inspires others to follow suit.
“This has been a therapeutic process for me,” Nickerson said. “I’m a gay man brought up in Catholic school so I think everybody’s had a little therapy during this, cast and crew. It’s been lovely.”
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