By Arnold Wayne Jones

Tortured musical drama: A jock (Joshua Doss, left) loves his roommate (Sean Patrick Henry) but has difficulty outing himself in "Bare."

Uptown’s doomed gay love musical ‘Bare’  pushes all the right buttons

"Brokeback Mountain" didn’t invent the doomed gay romance formula. But it did help popularize it. Two men are secretly in love: one wants to shout his love from the rooftops; one prefers to stay in the closet. The dispute drives a wedge between them, and the story doesn’t end happily. As anyone left in tears by Ennis’ final line ("Jack, I swear") can attest, the format works.

So you can forgive "Bare: A Pop Opera," now onstage from Uptown Players, if it cleaves a bit predictably to some well-trodden ground. When it comes down to it, the story beautiful sung by a deeply gifted cast partly resonates because of its familiarity. Don’t think of it as cliché. Think of it as timeless.

Like Del Shores’ "Southern Baptist Sissies" (or "Romeo & Juliet," a production of which figures into the plot), the protagonists in "Bare" are torpedoed not by their own love, but by the moral clucking of society. Peter (Sean Patrick Henry) and Jason (Joshua Doss) have been roommates at their Catholic boarding school for years and have spent most of the time as lovers.

While Peter is bookish and shy, Jason is the campus heartthrob and resident jock. And no one suspects their relationship is more than friendly. When Peter starts wanting more openness, Jason reacts by romancing Ivy (Kayla Carlyle).

Like Uptown’s most recent musicals ("Tick, tick… BOOM!" and "Hair," also directed by Cheryl Denson), most of "Bare" is sung-through operetta-style. But unlike those shows, fewer songs stick. Although called a "pop opera," the numbers are only tangentially pop-sounding (a rap, entertainingly performed by Clayton Farris, starts off as an atonal mess). It’s not the band’s fault, but an hour after "Bare" ended, I couldn’t hum a single bar.

But if the music (by Damon Intrabartolo) is often less than memorable, the emotions and the singing grip onto you like a vice. Sniffles rang from the audience on opening night, testifying to the impact.

The chemistry between Henry and Doss is palpable (sexy and romantic), and their two-part harmonies blend gorgeously. Carlyle’s pristinely smooth voice sends chill blanes up and down the spine.

The supporting players deliver high-caliber performances, too. Sara Shelby-Martin, Jeff Kinman and Natalie King nail their scenes. And Liz Woodcock almost steals the show as Jason’s prickly sister (her song "Quiet Night" is simply triumphant).

Maybe it makes sense that the score tends to fade while the feelings remain. "Bare" is a musical set in a minor key, emotionally if not orchestrally. It’s more concerned with effectively plucking heartstrings than piano keys.

KD Studios Theatre, 1800 Stemmons Freeway, suite 180. Through March 16. Thursdays Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. $25 $30. 214-219-2718.

Read reviews of "Crimes of the Heart," "Love, Janis" and more new plays at just click Stage.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 22, 2008

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