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Review: Bare - In Concert (London Palladium)

Review by Daz Gale


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There is a growing presence of musical theatre concerts of late, with this last month bursting with them even more than usual. One of the leaders in these productions are Lambert Jackson, a company who provided a lifeline for many of us with their streamed shows during lockdowns and have gone from strength to strength since, producing a sensational concert of Side Show and an unmissable night from Jason Robert Brown in the last month alone. Their latest offering is a cult favourite, Bare, in a much grander setting than it has been before and making its West End debut at the London palladium. Could it repeat the success of their recent offerings?

 

Bare: A Pop Opera first premiered in Los Angeles in 2000 and has gone on to play multiple productions in the years since all over the world, including a run off-Broadway. Rarely seen in the UK, its last outing was a production at The Vaults in London in 2019, but this concert makes its long awaited West End premiere. Set in a Catholic boarding school, it focuses on the students various struggles, centring on the secret relationship between Jason (Jordan Luke Gage) and Peter (Laurie Kynaston) as they attempt to come to terms with their own identities and who the world thinks they should be. With themes of religion, sexuality and acceptance, it can prove a heavy watch at times but one that carries an important message – one that is still as vital in today’s society as ever.



As with any of these musical theatre concerts, the word “concert” can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Like many other concerts, Bare doesn’t see the cast simply standing and singing the songs, instead semi-staged with choreography and minimal props with Dean Johnson’s direction ambitiously bringing a rather intimate story to the grand setting that is the London Palladium stage. Sadly not every element worked as well as you would hope on this occasion with awkward silences and scenes not ending distinctly enough, resulting in the whole thing feeling less slick than I am used to in previous productions from these talented creatives.

 

Due to the nature of these one-night-only concerts, they can often be dogged with sound problems, and sadly that was notably apparent in this production. Multiple missed cues and incorrect mixing meant the cast struggled to be heard making some of the dialogue and lyrics completely audible and lessening the impact of lines completely. At one point, a character was admonished for their ignorant comment… a comment that hadn’t been heard on the stage. It wasn’t just the sound that caused problems on this occasion though with the lighting refusing to behave itself, lighting up randomly or plunging the cast into darkness making it impossible to see them clearly. These two crucial production elements can be the key to moments landing, and I cite them as one of the main reasons Bare didn’t resonate as it should.

 

I am a great champion of these musical theatre concerts, as regular readers of this website will know. They provide great opportunities to revisit shows that are rarely seen or give them a bigger stage than they would be able to get, often with a dream cast. However, in this case, bigger doesn’t always mean better, and I felt that staging Bare in such a vast venue actually detracted from the story. At its heart, this is a very intimate story, one that requires an instant connection with the audience. Placing it in a 2000 capacity theatre made that all the more difficult. I get why these musical concerts opt for venues such as the Palladium, but where the scale worked for last month’s Side Show, it faltered in this production of Bare. I couldn’t help but think the show could be scaled up to a more middling size West End venue where it would be able to strike the balance of retaining the intimacy while bringing a sense of grandeur with its concert style, and the Palladium was not the best fit for it in that respect.



One thing that makes these musical theatre concerts so special are the cast that are recruited for them, with the highest calibre making this particular group a dream to watch. Having opened a huge West End play last week, Laurie Kynaston proves what a remarkable talent he is in the lead role of Peter. An absolute revelation in the role, he gives the strongest performance amongst a sensational cast, showcasing gorgeous vocals and an unrivalled knack for tapping into the emotive nature of the character.

 

The always wonderful Jordan Luke Gage seems to be living in his own greatest hits show in his role as Jason who gets to play Romeo during the show, while having a romantic connection with Frances Mayli McCann, giving us the &Juliet/Bonnie & Clyde/Heathers mashup us musical theatre obsessives fantasise over. With his unmistakable incredible voice, he gives a solid performance in the role, though at times the chemistry with Laurie Kynaston’s Peter isn’t quite as believable as you would hope. That said, their musical numbers together provide pure beauty from a vocal perspective with ‘Ever After’ and the title number ‘Bare’ truly astonishing in parts.

 

Frances Mayli McCann once again delights in the slow-burning role of Ivy, bringing the house down with one of the standout musical performances of the night ‘All Grown Up’. Katie Ramshaw gives one of the strongest performances in her star turn as Nadia, bringing a mix of dry humour, comic timing and a more sombre darkness to songs ‘Plain Jane fat Ass’ and ‘Spring’. And a tender approach to highlight ‘A Quiet Night At Home’. Cassidy Janson may be underused but shines whenever she appears with her big musical number ‘Warning’ a masterclass in how to perform with all the emotive interpretation Cassidy is known for in her performances.

 

An undoubted standout among the cast is Claudia Kariuki in her turn as Sister Chantelle. With her rapid paced delivery, she gets the biggest laugh out loud moments with her cutting remarks, well and truly bringing the house down with a rousing rendition of big musical number ‘God Don’t Make No Trash’ providing possibly the best musical moment of the night. The remainder of the cast are filled with the West Ends finest, with Ed Larkin, Jack Ofrecio, Adrian Hansel and Chrissie Bhima all shining in their roles, particularly when the whole cast come together on the stunning final number ‘No Voice’.



The songs in Bare is what makes the show stand out with Damon Intrabartolo’s music boasting a variety of styles to make a sonically exciting and eclectic show, with moments of rock and pop mixed with soul. Jon Hartmere’s fantastic lyrics tells the story beautifully and pushes the narrative along wonderfully. Whether you were hearing these songs for the first time or were getting a rare chance to experience them in person having already been familiar, there is no doubting the standard of them. To have such a talented and accomplished cast lend their God given gifts to these numbers was worth attending the concert alone – it is just a shame elements like the sound detracted from how incredible these moments should have been.

 

Attending these one-off concerts is one of my greatest joys both as a musical theatre lover and a reviewer. Bare was to an extent a great choice to stage as a concert but sadly the performance on the night was littered with problems, drastically lessening the impact of the numbers as well as the heart and emotion (though a few tears were still shed by yours truly, of course). I did get the sense that the show could have used a bit longer in rehearsals to make the whole thing feel as slick as we are used to from the producers other concerts, though assembling a cast of this calibre may result in limitations in time. While this production was not perfect by a long shot, there was still plenty about it to love, namely the cast and the music. If anything, it had me longing for a fully staged production of Bare to return to London in the not too distant future – I know I’ll be praying for that anyway.

 

Bare played at London Palladium on 7th April. For information on Lambert Jackson’s future shows, visit www.lambertjackson.co.uk 

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