It's not the kind of show most people would expect from a community theater — which is partly why it appealed to the people at MAD Theatre.
Called bare: a pop opera, the play revolves around a topic that can be controversial: two gay teenagers in a Catholic boarding school. Also, the cast performs a difficult score with no spoken words, only music.
On top of all that, MAD's production is the Tampa Bay area premiere, so most theatergoers here have never heard of the show.
"That's one of the reasons we chose it," said MAD president Cathy Hoote. "We don't want to do mainstream shows. There are a lot of community theaters in this area who do great work with mainstream shows. We just want to do things that are different."
Bare opened Thursday and runs through April 29 in the Shimberg Playhouse at the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
First produced 11 years ago in Los Angeles, the show has been popular in fringe theater festivals around the world. It also had a short but well-received off-Broadway run in 2004.
Director Jennifer Marshall compares bare to Rent and Spring Awakening.
But it also owes much to Romeo and Juliet. In bare, the Catholic boarding school is staging a production of Romeo and Juliet, and like the Shakespeare play, the main characters carry on a secret love affair.
"There are ideas that need to be talked about," Hooten said. "Bullying is in the headlines every day, and of course there's the issue of bigotry. But at its heart, it's a story about love."
MAD (an acronym for Music, Acting and Dance) has a penchant for staging musicals that audiences are unfamiliar with. More often than not, they're hits with audiences and critics.
"We know we're taking a chance when we do a show like this one, or Reefer Madness that no one around here had ever heard of," said Wooten, referring to one of MAD's most popular previous shows. "But we figure if we can just get them into the theater once, they'll keep coming back."
Some of the performers in bare are commuting from Polk County every night after work to rehearse. One actor came to Tampa from New York to audition.
Marshall said she ended up with a phenomenal cast, many of whom are new to MAD.
"The way they work together, the way they mesh, is really fantastic," she said. "There are no weak links."
Many of the characters are high school students, but because of the themes of the show, MAD made sure not to cast anyone under 18.
"It was a difficult rehearsal process at times," Hooten said. "Several of our cast members are gay, so some of the things in the show, the bullying, the coming out to your parents, that brought up some difficult memories. There were some very emotional times."
Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.