Why Bare: A Pop Opera Deserves a Broadway Revival
*Warning, this article contains spoilers for Bare: A Pop Opera and deals with sensitive topics*
Bare: A Pop Opera is a beautiful sung-through musical that first debuted in 2000, and then had another run in 2004, followed by a 2012 revival and then an LA revival just under ten years later. There have been over 100 productions of the show world wide, and when the show first debuted there were queues down the street and people even paid to sit on the staircases to see the show (this definitely wouldn't be allowed any more), so the first run was eventually extended multiple times. Bare is a stunning show that has a cult following, yet remains largely underrated.
The show takes a very emotional and intimate look into the issues faced by a group of teenagers at a private Catholic boarding school, including sex, self-image and sexuality, managing to connect to its many audiences despite their sexual orientation or religion. The story follows a group of teenagers, most notably closeted 17-year-olds Peter and Jason, who had been in a secret relationship since they became roommates when they were only 11. Right before graduation, Peter decides that he wants to come out to his family, in order for him and Jason to live out his dream of them growing up together as a couple, out in the open for the world to see. Jason is much more terrified of the idea, and this causes ongoing friction between the two, who desperately want to be together but are afraid of facing their truths under the eyes of a judgemental society, whilst being taught that they must strictly follow the teachings of the Bible.
The pop opera deals with real issues that are still relevant today, despite the musical being almost 20 years old. The name Bare is extremely fitting for the show, as nothing is too over the top, everything feels stripped down and subtle, whilst still carrying a lot of meaning. I first heard about this show from musical theatre ‘cult leader’ known as Katherine Steele on YouTube, who has always raved about the emotional show. After discovering Bare, I can agree that it’s extremely underrated, and I was so touched by the message of the show that I ended up listening to multiple different performances with different casts throughout the years since the show debuted in 2000.
Of the three full shows I have listened to; the 2004 Off-Broadway production, the LA revival and the 2012 revival, I have found different things that I have loved from each performance, but one common theme remains between all of these shows. The casts were all incredibly talented, both vocally and emotionally, there genuinely isn’t a version of the show that doesn’t have incredible vocals and extremely heart-wrenching performances, and the message of the show remains largely the same. The show has a very important message about how acceptance can affect how others live their lives and how two different interpretations of a religion can repress a person's identity or save their life. Peter tries desperately to come out to his mother, who tries to avoid the situation and leaves Peter feeling completely unseen and heartbroken, whilst his mother comes to terms with her son’s sexuality. There are multiple occasions in the show where the teenagers explore feeling completely unseen and unheard, even reiterating this point at the end of the show with the song No Voice.
Throughout the show, there are clear parallels between advice Peter and Jason get from different mentors about coming out and the way they navigate their sexuality, and subsequently how each of their stories end. Peter receives more support, mainy from teacher Sister Chantelle, who tells him that being in love is not hurting anybody and is fine, as God loves everyone equally, whereas the priest tells Jason to stick to the teachings and keep his true self hidden, resulting in peter becoming becoming more confident and determined to come out and Jason becoming more lost and scared. *SPOILER WARNING* This sadly results in Jason overdosing and losing his life, the pressure becoming all too much for him. After all, he had been given many reasons to believe that he would never have been loved and accepted for who he really is.
After the loss of his first love, Peter asks the priest if he blames himself for not helping Jason when he came to him as a last resort for comfort and guidance, reiterating the point that denying someone’s truth and refusing to support them based on their identity could ultimately cost them their life. How people react to someone coming out can really make or break them and this show demonstrates this clearly. Jason in the beginning seemed like he had it all, he was popular, intelligent and seemingly confident, so people failed to recognise how much he had been struggling. Even his own sister confessed that she knew that he was gay, but had never discussed it with him. In the end, talking openly and supportively about sexuality could have saved Jason’s life. The word ‘gay’ isn’t even used in the show, except for Sister Chantelle, who believes that being gay isn’t a sin at all.
Peter and Jason’s dynamic mirrors that of the performance they are putting on at school, frequently referencing putting on a show for an audience (the audience being their peers and mentors). In one of the pair’s final duets together, the lyrics “The act is beginning, the audience waiting” “Stay in this moment where secrets reveal, here in a world where there’s safety in falsehood. I have discovered the one thing that’s real. That I love you, and I’ve loved you from the start.” really hit home, proving the fact that they could never reveal their true identities, despite the immense love that they shared. This song is arguably one of the most heartbreaking moments in the entire show, as Jason had taken a fatal overdose and Peter doesn’t realise that this is one of the last moments they will share alone together.
Despite the clear judgement posed by their religion on the topic of homosexuality, the only person who uses an openly homophobic slur in the show is Matt, though from my perspective he doesn’t actually seem to hate either of them just for being gay. He only actually uses the slur when he is jealous of Jason and Ivy’s relationship and outs Jason and Peter when he discovers that Jason has left Ivy pregnant, even though he had known about Jason and Peter for a while. Of course this doesn’t make ANY of this behaviour okay in the slightest, but I just found it interesting that the general reaction to Peter and Jason being gay was one of discomfort and awkwardness rather than hatred. Matt doesn’t react aggressively towards Peter at all once he confesses his sexuality to him, he just tells Peter that he should probably go to sleep and then awkwardly leaves.
It seems that Matt's anger was specifically surrounding the Ivy situation rather than a hatred towards gay people, and even though it was far too late, he does apologize later for his actions. Regarding Jason’s death, he struggles to find the right words or quotation to make sense of the situation, and wonders if Jason would have still been alive if he had said nothing about Jason and Peter’s relationship, or if they had spoken openly about them being gay. This made me think that none of the characters in the show actually hated homosexuality at all, they just didn’t know how to respond to it because of their religious upbringing. If it was discussed more openly like Sister Chantelle does, there’s a good chance that there would be very little prejudice at all from Jason and Peter’s peers.
The show also deals with the issues faced by young women, including negative body image, teenage pregnancy and wanting to be seen for who they really are. Nadia is Jason’s overweight twin sister who struggles with her body image, constantly comparing herself to her thinner and ‘prettier’ roommate Ivy. Because of this, Nadia remains very cynical and the two clash a lot, adding to the negative connotations each of the girls had given themselves. Ivy is sick of being seen as just a one night stand or a hook up and therefore is searching for someone to love her for herself, but she is constantly labelled as a ‘slut’ by her peers, including Nadia. Ivy even admits during the show that following her previous relationships she would become nothing but an anecdote, but and even tries to sugar coat the situation by saying that ‘ boys will be boys’ (an excuse that no longer cuts it in this day and age) and doesn’t hold them accountable at all.
Nadia is so self conscious that she avoids going out partying with the rest of her friends and sings a solemn number about spending the night alone; feeling that she isn’t good enough and negatively labelling herself, a situation I feel like a lot of people have experienced at some point in their lives. Ivy looks for someone to love her, and ultimately does this by attempting to seduce Jason. Jason goes along with it for the sake of appearing straight, wondering if this is actually what he ‘should’ be doing. The plot gets even more complicated once Ivy falls pregnant whilst Jason, realising his mistake and completely unaware of what has happened, tries to distance himself from her. When Ivy is left alone with a baby, she realises that she now has to grow up and must deal with the situation by herself. She breaks down and tells Nadia everything, the pair reminiscing on their simpler childhood when they all had been friends. Upon the reveal, Nadia realises how harsh she had been towards Ivy and tries her best to support her, fully aware of the implications of the situation.
The music written for Bare is stunning; Auditions and Queen Mab for example, prove that even if these writers had just written an entire musical based on Romeo and Juliet, it would sound amazing. But also some of the musical choices made (especially in the 2004 version) really added to the heart wrenching performances from the cast. One of my favourite creative decisions they made was to have Bare begin acapella - no music, just a stripped down version where you can really hear Jason’s emotion whilst he’s singing to Peter and it manages to break my heart every time I hear it.
Now some people have said that the ending feeds into the bury your gays trope, however I feel that Jason’s death is integral to telling the tale of how a lack of support can affect someone trying to come out, especially in a close-minded, religious setting. This is especially important when compared to Peter’s support from Sister Chantelle and how that gave him the confidence he needed to come out. Yes, seeing LGBTQ+ couples in normal scenarios is extremely important for the normalisation of LGBTQ+ people in society and acceptance of the community in general. However, it would be extremely ignorant to believe that despite how far we’ve come in terms of LGBTQ+ rights since this musical debuted, gay kids aren’t still being treated like this, especially those from religious upbringings.
In an article by Reuters Health, a study based on data from U.S college students found that questioning youth had the highest rates of recent thoughts about suicide at 16.4 percent and lesbians and gays who reported that religion was important to them were 38 percent more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts. This is why the more serious and darker issues dealt with in the show are extremely important in contrast to Peter’s experience. A lot of religious LGBTQ+ youths struggle with these issues, therefore it is extra important for people to see the effect that a lack of support can have on questioning or closeted youths. There were even fans of the show who stated that the musical was very real for them, as they felt that they had to choose between their own identity and their religious beliefs.
I can confidently say that Bare: A Pop Opera is a stunning show that is still extremely relevant today, even in an age where LGBTQ+ Pride is celebrated around the world. Everyone should see this musical at some point, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, if not only to appreciate the stunning musical numbers and talented actors. Bare carries a very important message that should encourage more empathy from those outside of the LGBTQ+ community, as there are sadly a lot of young people who still relate to Jason’s situation and find themselves feeling the same way. Bare: A Pop Opera is highly underrated and well overdue for another revival, so I implore you to check the show out.
In 2018 it was announced that Bare: The Movie was in the works, created by the same directors of the original production, and the last thing that was heard about the movie adaptation is that the creators were looking for fans to submit 1 minute videos explaining what the show means to them.
Check out the links below for more information on the movie and topics discussed in this article!