Faith and identity in turmoil: Out of the Box’s ‘Bare’ explores two gay teens in Catholic school

The cast of "Bare: A Rock Opera" as students of St. Cecilia's

The cast of “Bare: A Rock Opera” as students of St. Cecilia’s

I feel like we always say this, but this is the hardest show we’ve ever done!” says the always chipper Samantha Eve, the executive director of Out of the Box Theatre Company. She’s talking about the 15-plus cast members of “Bare: A Rock Opera” that opens at Center Stage Theater this Thursday. Ms. Eve has worked with large casts before, like Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” and the hippie collective of “Hair.” But this musical, a story of two Catholic boarding school boys who fall in love and question their faith and identity — with some surprising consequences — is calling on local high schoolers for the job.

“We’re dealing with a lot of scheduling conflicts,” Eve says. “But we’re lucky because they’re bringing a lot of great energy to the show. They’re extraordinarily talented.”

A stolen moment between Peter (Gabe Reali) and Jason (Tad Murroughs) Sophia Winnikoff photos

A stolen moment between Peter (Gabe Reali) and Jason (Tad Murroughs)
Sophia Winnikoff photos

The cast comes from Bishop Diego, San Marcos, Dos Pueblos, Santa Barbara High and Laguna Blanca. There are also some SBCC and UCSB students, and some are coming in from Thousand Oaks and Santa Maria.

Written by Jon Hartmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, the “Pop Opera” debuted in 2000 in Los Angeles and headed to off-Broadway in 2004. Also popular ever since, the two writers returned to the opera in 2012 and rewrote it as a musical in 2012. Out of the Box follows the original book, because as Ms. Eve says, “They changed a lot of the story. I understand what they were trying to do, they were trying to keep it contemporary. But the original script is a much deeper story, the characters are better written, and the music allows them to go into deeper places. And this is the version I fell in love with when I heard the soundtrack.”

More than that, Ms. Eve doesn’t think too much has changed in 14 years. The themes of the show are still the same, she says. “It’s that time in life where you question who you really are, when you feel that nobody is really listening to you or receiving you. The main relationship in the show between the two leads, well, that makes them question their relationship with God, their friends and their families.”

Those things haven’t changed, she says.

The two leads are played by Tad Murroughs (Jason) and Gabe Reali (Peter), boarding school roommates and recent secret lovers. Jason is the popular, outgoing student, while Peter is shy and retiring. There are further complications when Jason’s friend Matt (Nick Ehlen) falls in love with the school’s party girl Ivy (Julia Kupiec), even though she’s in love with Jason. Oh, and some of the students are mounting a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Star-crossed lovers abound.

Mr. Murroughs was in Out of the Box’s “John and Jen,” and a few other Box company members have returned for the show, including Christopher Lee Short, Ann Guynn, and Julia Kupiec.

It helps that the two leads are friends in real life and were in a production of “Rent” last summer, a production that shares a lot of DNA with “Bare.” While Mr. Murroughs is more of the classically trained actor, Mr. Reali comes from a more rock and pop singing background. The two have been helping each other out, Ms. Eve says, sharing knowledge but also adapting to a completely different form.

“What I like about this show is that it’s not very critical about religion or faith,” Ms. Eve says. “I didn’t want a cynical show … the characters try to find a way to balance their life and our faith.”

Out of the Box’s history reflects Ms. Eve’s eclectic tastes, but she does love the contemporary and topical, even the shocking. (Not that she’s against it, but don’t expect a “South Pacific” from the company.)

“There really aren’t many shows, plays or musicals, that tell stories like this. That explore same-sex relationships, or teenagers, or coming out. The writers handle it in a very clever way, with a lot of balance.”

This show and Out of the Box’s upcoming spring production of “The Wild Party” have been on Ms. Eve’s list for some time, but only now is she getting around to it.

“I kept saying I’m not ready yet, I’m not ready yet. But now … we better get ready!”

“Bare: A Rock Opera”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 16
Where: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $18-$28
Information: (805) 963-0408, www.centerstagetheater.org

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