Artistic Differences brings it all with Bare

<i>Bare</i>: You get the idea, yeah?

Bare: You get the idea, yeah?

Rated 5.0

Artistic Differences does it again with Bare, a pop-rock musical with a seriously broken heart.

Set in a contemporary Catholic boarding school (complete with iPods and raves), Bare echoes Romeo and Juliet in a West Side Story way, minus the battling families or gangs. Instead, the weight of history, tradition and religious belief combines with more emotional force than any mere feud to separate the young lovers, both of whom happen to be male.

Bare does include a production of Romeo and Juliet as a centerpiece, which allows the cast to more fully explore the dynamics of young love as it is tortured and twisted by society. A brilliant piece of work, Bare will surely get more attention over time.

Artistic Differences has assembled a cast made up of the best and brightest of the area’s young musical actors. That makes this production reminiscent of last summer’s Hair in all the finest ways: dynamic voices, a lot of humor, a heart that won’t ignore injustice. As the star-crossed leads, Lucas Blair (Peter) and Ian Cullity (Jason) are in impeccable voice. Blair has the good-hearted, earnest-kid vibe down; and Cullity makes Jason’s emotional wavering both frustrating and true. Kelly Daniells, the company’s managing director, turns in a heart-rending performance as Ivy, a true victim of love. Maggie Hollinbeck does a great deal with a small role, mingling grace with pain as Peter’s disappointed but loving mother—and Hollenbeck’s duet with Blair in “See Me” will break the heart of anyone who’s had to come out to a beloved parent as well as any parent who’s had to listen.

But the scene stealers are Jason’s misfit sister, Nadia (Joelle Wirth), with a “good girl wrapped in a bad girl” attitude that puts Stockard Channing’s old Rizzo role in Grease to shame, and Sister Chantelle (Natasha Greer), who manages to channel Diana Ross, Oprah and Madea—sometimes in the same scene. Joshua James (Lucas) does what he does best—stir things up with a rousing dance number, as he did so well in Cabaret earlier this year at Runaway Stage—in “Wonderland,” a paean to the joys of the rave that precedes a dance scene set in one of the underground parties (and is very reminiscent, in a 21st-century way, of Hair’s acid trip).

Once again, Artistic Differences will have people lining up next to the light-rail tracks for the show of the summer.