For nine out of twenty-one years of my brief life on this world, I attended catholic school. Four of those nine years, I attended an all-girl’s catholic school. Yes, there was plaid. Yes, I was brain-washed a little bit. And yes, I still have the Catholic Guilt.
My years there were not, however, entirely unpleasant. There’s a special kind of bond that forms when you throw 600 teenage girls into a building together. I didn’t see or hear about a lot of the catty awfulness that I usually associated with high school girls; instead I noticed a sort of solidarity and communal vibe being given off everywhere. We would be loud and obnoxious, take up as much space as we wanted to, openly complain about our periods, and talk about any topic under the sun: teachers, movies, books that we’d been reading, stupid cat videos that we had seen, boys…
Now is probably a good time to interject that I am terribly, terribly gay.
And I realized that during my time in high school. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t try my absolute hardest to be straight.
I joined all of my friends gossiping about boys and who was interested in who and all of that rot. I even picked out a few boys from the neighboring boy’s school who didn’t totally disgust me and Had Crushes on them. I really committed, too. I wrote their names in my day planner, surrounded by tiny little hearts and arrows. I thoroughly facebook stalked them (which, let me tell you, was a lot of work because teenage boys are remarkably uninteresting).
Anyway, during my time in high school, I also stumbled across one of my favorite musicals – Bare: A Pop Opera. One of my friends from the boy’s school next door, who had recently come out to me, had sent it my way, raving about how much he related to it and how he wanted to share it with me. Bare is about two boys at an all-boys catholic school who fall in love and the tragedy that befalls them when everyone else finds out. Well, as any good Straight Ally Who Is Definitely Not Gay would do, I listened to the soundtrack. Again. And again. And again and again and again. For some Unknown Reason, this play just resonated with me. Especially the song wherein one of the leads sings about how his entire life is an act and that he is afraid that he will end up miserable and alone because he won’t have anyone to love because he will never be able to come out.
My heart hurt for those poor gays… And I, as their Straight Ally, was going to do them justice by committing myself to knowing every part of every song in this very gay musical.
Okay, so obviously, I eventually was like “Oh, shit. This isn’t sympathy. This is identity” and admitted to myself that I was a raging homosexual. Incidentally, there are a few “play within a play” scenes in Bare where the kids in the school are putting on a performance of Romeo and Juliet. And, as it just so happened, my school had just put on a performance of none other than Romeo and Juliet that I had been a part of. To be fair, I was no more than a meager stagehand, but the parallels were there if you squinted.
Now, obviously, I was biased because I was I related to the story that I was seeing (but we will talk about representation in a later post), but this is also just a really solid musical. One of the things that was most salient to me at the time was their near-flawless integration of Catholic hymn-styled music into the score. Damon Intrabartolo, the composer, drew from mass music and used snippets of various religious songs as motifs throughout the show, adapting them and twisting them to change their sound and alter (or should I say…altar?) the mood of the scene. Even the instrumentation of the orchestra mimics that of a traditional church service. There is a huge emphasis on organ and woodwind instruments that is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever sat in on a Catholic mass service.
Without a doubt, however, some of the most impressive songs in this show are the ones that set Romeo and Juliet to music. Intrabartolo perfectly foreshadows the on-coming tragedy of both Romeo and Juliet and Bare in his rendition of the famous “Two households, both alike in dignity” monologue. He uses tight, sometimes dissonant harmonies to create a grim atmospheric sound that will send shivers up your spine. This is indirect contrast to his melodic, romantic rendition of the Queen Mab monologue.
One of the most striking parts of this musical, however, is the way that Intrabartolo makes connections between the main characters’ love story and that of Romeo and Juliet. It took me a few listens to really grasp the nuance and make the connections between the songs, but it really is stunning. He borrows small bits and pieces from the Romeo and Juliet compositions and inserts them into the “main play’s” songs seamlessly.
This is still, without a doubt, one of my favorite musicals I have ever heard. The composition is stunning, the talent used is immaculate, and, although some of the lyrics are a bit juvenile, it’s got tons of really excellent lyricism to go along with it. There is so much to say about this show that I don’t even know where to begin. But I will end with this: if you ever wanna see me cry like a little baby, just play Role Of A Lifetime from this show for me.
I’m gonna leave a few links to some of the songs below, so I hope you can enjoy them!
Role Of A Lifetime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKx88u2g5oo
Queen Mab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R_Q-TJ_xHM
No Voice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN61E_j2pME