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BARE: The Musical Winnipeg Fringe Festival Review - See Elliot Lazar

by Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng., July 20, 2012

Have you ever wondered what local high school musical stars do in the summer or after they graduate from high school? Wonder no more. Seventeen of these very talented young people can be found in BARE: The Musical at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

In the span of one show these performers evoked both laughter and tears from the full house opening night audience.

“Clearly we have a cast of strong young performers with bright futures ahead of them,” says Director Janna Larsen proudly.

BARE: The Musical follows a group of high school students in their final year at a Catholic boarding school as they deal with issues like social acceptance, self-image, sexual orientation, religion, alcohol, illegal drugs, religion and raging hormones. At the center of the plot are Peter (Kristopher Traquair) and Jason (David Fox), roommates secretly in love. Peter longs to come out and bring their relationship to light, while all-star student and athlete Jason can't bear to bare his secret to the world. Peter struggles with the conflict between his sexuality and his religion. Jason worries about not fitting in and failing his parents.

Katie German is great as Nadia, Jason’s chubby sharp-tongued twin sister. Lightening the mood, she is a fresh breath of sarcastic air when she superbly sings “Plain Jane Fat Ass”.

Lovelorn Matt (Elliot Lazar) chases promiscuous Ivy (Bailie Park-Payne) throughout the story only to have his love unrequited. Instead Ivy pursues Jason, a man she can never really have. Jealousy runs amok.

The boarding school is putting on the play “Romeo and Juliet”, a foreboding to the tragic ending of the musical. When the students are not practicing for the play, they are either praying or partying.

At a party, Peter begs Jason to come out and make their relationship known. In a drunken stupor, Ivy tries to seduce Jason. To save face Jason leaves the party with Ivy, making Peter storm off. Matt is also frustrated and leaves as Ivy ignores his advances. Peter and Matt end up drinking together and consoling each other.

Jason breaks up with Peter. Peter and Matt pine for each of their loves, Nadia wishes to be popular, while Jason gives in to Ivy’s sexual advances and sleeps with her. The rest of the story follows like a Shakespearean tragedy.

The music is diverse – pop, rock, gospel, motown, ballads, rap and others. Bailie Park-Payne displays her impressive singing ability in “Portrait of a Girl”. Kristopher Traquair and Elliot Lazar have tremendous voices and sing a wonderful duet “Are You There?” and David Fox is brilliant in “Once Upon a Time”.

I last reviewed Lazar’s musical flair in the Gray Academy of Jewish Education production of “13” in December 2010. There, I said he was destined for bigger and better musical numbers.

About his involvement in BARE, Lazar reveals, “I am the only Jew in the cast and throughout the rehearsal process I learned a great deal about Catholicism, and the looming similarities and differences between it and Judaism. I have also gained a greater appreciation of my religion and my experience of going to the Gray Academy of Jewish Education.”

In a private interview with Janna Larsen, Director, after the opening night show, Larsen told the WJR how BARE came about.

In 1992 Janna Larsen, musical theatre teacher at Grant Park High School formed the Junior Musical Theatre Company, an auditioned pre-professional company for students from grade 2 to grade 12 focusing on singing, dancing, and acting. Some twenty years later it was taken over by a former student, Katie German (who plays Nadia in BARE). The pair decided that it would be fun to gather teenagers from all over the city and present BARE at the Winnipeg Fringe. They felt it was an up and coming musical (which is destined for New York, Off-Broadway this winter) that was a little too edgy for high school, but just right for the Fringe.

“We only started auditioning June 4th. Our cast is made up of University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, and Grant McEwan University (Edmonton) students. The cast represents many different religions, ethnicities and perspectives,” explains Larsen.

“It turned out to be a work of passion for everyone. We had a great time in rehearsal and now in performance. BARE is a story about the innocence of adolescence, about humanity, about being comfortable with your choices and about being true to yourself.” 

Friday, July 20, 2012 @ 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 21, 2012 @ 12:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 22, 2012 @ 2:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012 @ 8:30 p.m.
Friday, July 27, 2012 @ 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 28, 2012 @ 3:30 p.m.

Venue #1
John Hirsch Theatre at the MTC Mainstage
174 Market Ave. Entrance on John Hirsch Place.
Tickets $10

Editor's note: Prior to the opening of the perfomance, the Editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review interviewed Elliot Lazar about the play by email. Here are our questions and his answers:

1. What does the play say about religion and sexuality?

Elliot Lazar: "Bare" is, at it's core, a show about humanity, and so while it doesn't denounce religion, it also doesn't suggest that we hide from who we truly are. It's about finding what religion means to you, and how it factors into your life, whether it is an emotional support or a guide to living life to the very fullest. It recognizes that at times, organized religion becomes a condemning body and that not the faith, but the people are prone to misconstruing the teachings. "Bare" is a very real show in that it doesn't pretend to provide any answers, as it is still a very relevant topic - especially with America's late fixation on the question of gay marriage.

In short, it explores the problems and questions people run into when dealing with their own faith and sexuality. Every character remains connected to their religion in a very deep way, thus blurring the lines of wrong and right and adding an air of uncertainty that is all too vital to the piece. This is so, especially since it's main focus is a group of teenagers going through a point in their life where they are just becoming adults, and are never quite sure about what's ahead.

2. What have you learned from the play about Catholicism?

Elliot Lazar: In addition to details (i.e. how to properly cross yourself, how communion works, the process of confessing your sins), I have learned that while in a show such as this where it would be easy to pigeonhole Catholicism (and more generally, organized religion) as a "bad guy", "Bare" doesn't do that. If anything, I have gained a new appreciation for religion and the purpose it can serve in people's lives, because in desperate times when it feels like it's the end of the world (i.e. a day in the life of the average teen), it can really provide a rock. God doesn't always have to be a judging omnipresent being looking down on us, sometimes we can find God as someone to confide in when we most need guidance and comfort - as is the case in one of my favourite songs from the show, "Are You There" in which Peter (played by Kristopher Traquair) and Matt (played by myself) seek guidance from God in their time of need.

Some cast members are actually attending a Catholic Sunday service this Sunday in order to really authenticate our production.

3. Describe your role in more detail?

Elliot Lazar: I play Matthew Lloyd (or just "Matt"), a senior at St. Cecilia's Catholic Boarding School. Matt is a straight-A student, and a pious and devout Christian who is head-over-heels in love with Ivy (played by Bailie Park-Payne). He wants nothing more than to be with her, and yet can't seem to make a connection, despite his constant efforts. Upon discovering that his friends Peter and Jason (played by David Fox) are gay, he struggles with how he feels about two friends he has known for years and how the Bible dictates he should feel.

4. Anything else you want to mention?

Elliot Lazar: Though "Bare" is mainly concerned with gay students in a Catholic boarding school, at it's heart it is about being an outsider - something we can all identifiy with, whether you are gay or sexually confused (like Peter), pigeonholed as the class slut (like Ivy), experiencing unrequited love (like Matt) or dealing with issues of body image and self esteem like Nadia (played by Katie German). Essentially, anyone and everyone will find something strikes a chord with them in "Bare".

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