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a Musical
by John Mercurio

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3978

SHOWING : March 17, 2011 - April 10, 2011



Just one year ago, Aurora was the first regional theatre in America to produce the post-Broadway production of "A Catered Affair," a performance that won high praise from its creators, the legendary Harvey Fierstein and composer John Bucchino. Now Aurora Theatre is set to stage the amazing new pop chamber musical "Academy," by John Mercurio, conceived and created by Andrew Kato, opening March 17, 2011. The tensions at St. Edward’s Academy heat up as a short-sighted bet between two upperclassmen fails. Seniors Michael Fletcher and Amory DuPres manipulate a naive freshman, which results in catastrophic consequences for all involved. Inspired by Goethe’s "Faust," this New York Musical Theatre Festival award-winning show took top honors at the Daegu International Musical Festival in South Korea in July of 2010.

Director Freddie Ashley
Music Director Ann-Carol Pence
Choreographer Ricardo Aponte
Pete Neville Nick Arapoglou
Conrad Lansky Greg Bosworth
Amory DuPres Lowrey Brown
Benji DuPres Bryan Lee
Theodore Gert Mike Morin
Michael Fletcher Jeremy Wood
Regan O'Reilly Jacob York
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Last Year's Lessons
by Dedalus
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Watching “Academy” was very much like experiencing being held back in elementary school. Everything is done better than before, but I was still left with a feeling of “been there seen that.”

To be sure, the play is well-sung, well-acted, well-directed, and well-designed (one of the best sets of the year, in fact). I just couldn’t help escaping the feeling that too many characters were too similar, too many of the situations too familiar from too many other plays and books and movies, and too many of the songs (for me) not very memorable.

Benji DuPres is a newcomer to St Edward’s Academy. Two seniors make a seemingly trivial bet that they can get him to “break the rules” before the year is out. Before too long, promises are broken, backs are stabbed, and everyone is bound for a showdown in the ivy-covered bell tower that will impact these boys for life. Along the way, Benji learns a little bit about “life.”

Buzzing around the three leads are a number of interchangeable friends and fellow students, none of whom are developed to more than pop song depth. We have the macho guy who just wants to dance, the big-glasses nerd who just wants to belong, and the … well, just who is this kid played by Nick Arapaglou? We’re told his name is “Pete Neville,” and he has a nicely done and moving solo (“Perfect Day”) about his Dad running off and leaving, then he disappears from the play. (In fact, as far as we know any of the characters, they have “Daddy issues” of one sort or other.) At no time do we have any sense of the adults in their lives, or exactly what makes them different, unique, or special enough to deserve having their story told.

And, the allusions and parallels to “Faust” are a bit clumsy and obvious, since the “bargain” made is so trivial – mean-spirited, certainly, but no where even close to “eternal-soul-threatening.” Yes, an “easy admittance” to Stanford is in the balance, but it still seems slight and airless.

Admittedly, the climactic scene in the bell tower if effective and gripping (as all such scenes tend to be), and the performances by the three leads are all compelling. As Benji, Bryan Lee is nicely guileless and innocent, nervously making bad choices even as he grows into some good ones. As his older kin Armory, Lowrey Brown is at first arrogant and cruel, but his character makes enough growing-pain noises, that he grows more interesting than a cardboard villain. And as Michael, who befriends Benji for his bet with Armory, Jeremy Wood is all charm and guilt – he hates himself for betraying Benji, but won’t go so far as to threaten his admission to Stanford.

Director Freddie Ashley and Music Director Ann-Carol Pence bring along their usual professional touch – the play is nicely paced and well-sung, and it is filled with many nice moments and interactions. For me, though, they just did not add up to much – it was definitely a case of the whole being less than the sum of all the parts.

The set by Philip Male was, as I said above, one of the nicest I’ve seen this year. Old-stone walls build to a just off-center bell-tower which anchors and overshadows all the action. Various scenes are played on platforms of different heights, making a stage picture that is a true delight to the eyes.

I’ve been postponing writing this for almost a week, trying to rationalize why it just didn’t hold together for me. I still can’t decide if it’s because the characters are all “children of privilege” who basically act like spoiled brats, or if it’s because the songs all have that bland “pop song” feel that goes for easy emotions and shallow thinking. It could be because the problems of all the characters seem too similar, making them interchangeable to an uncomfortable level. Or it could be that I’ve just seen too many other stories set in boys’ schools that end up in a metaphorical bell tower. In addition to all these factors, I suspect I’ve simply outgrown (or missed entirely) the angst of these teenagers, that their problems pale next to the more adult betrayals that await them. The play really has nothing new or compelling to say about adolescence or about private schools.

In any case, “Academy” was a production I could respect, with all involved working well. Judging from audience reaction (and on-line “buzz”), it’s also a play that’s resonating with younger audiences and students. For me, though, watching it was like re-hearing last year’s lessons, when I was longing to hear new stories and tackle new mysteries.

-- Brad Rudy (BK

Vocal and Language Tutors Needed... Apply Within
by playgoer
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
"Academy" is a thinly scripted riff on the Faust legend, with two upperclassmen at an exclusive private boy's school vying to influence the academic career of a first-year student. St. Edward's has a policy of sending its three worst-performing freshmen home at the end of the year. Benji DuPres (played by Bryan Lee) is one at-risk student, and he is aided by senior Michael Fletcher (played by Jeremy Wood) and misled by his cousin Amory DuPres, another upperclassman (played by Lowrey Brown). The Faust tie-in is underlined by having the students rehearse for a student production of "Faust" throughout the show.

The set, designed by Phillip Male, is the best I've seen at Aurora. Stone steps and multiple playing levels give visual appeal vertically and horizontally. More appeal is provided by a rotating section (library on one side; park area with benches and a bust on the other). Ivy is artfully arranged around the borders, and dimly-lit basement windows suggest both the academic environment and the proximity of Hell. Risers at each side of the proscenium, with elegant banners above, are used to represent a school chapel and performance stage for "Faust."

Costumes, by Linda Patterson, require seven matching school uniforms. The uniforms have a nice mix of colors, and the occasional scarf looks fine too. The Satan, God, and Faust costumes for the school production, though, have a bit of a frou-frou feel to them. Something more pedestrian might have been more successful, but the quickness of costume changes probably required throw-on cover-ups.

As for the lighting design by Bradley Bergeron, it points up scenes without being overpowering. There's a nice, subtle stained glass effect for the chapel scene, but otherwise I didn't remark on any out-of-the-ordinary techniques. The lighting served the play well.

The show is miked throughout, with a nice balance of voices to the orchestra, which is hidden behind a scrim. (Usually, the band is more visible at the Aurora.) Unfortunately, there's not much vocal beauty to highlight in this production. Even the finest voices (Jeremy Wood's and Lowrey Brown's) have occasional moments when they sound strained or slightly off. When it comes to Mr. Lee and Jacob York, the sour notes outweigh the true. The score seems to be a very difficult one to sing, but the choral moments blend well. Only the solo vocal lines seem to run into difficulties.

The cast of seven is split into four upperclassmen and three freshmen. Jacob York plays a brawny student who secretly wishes to dance and attend Parsons School of Fashion Design. Greg Bosworth plays a conspiracy theory-obsessed, apparent brainiac. (He must be, since he wears glasses.) They're upperclassmen. The freshmen include portly Mike Morin and lithe, cheery Nick Arapoglou. Superficial differences and character quirks seem to have been written in to provide some diversity in this all-boy, all-privileged private school.

A quatrain by French poet Charles Baudelaire runs throughout the action, and is recited in French (very poorly pronounced French) at one point. It, references to "Faust," and a quote from Emerson are the literary underpinnings of the story. Like the character distinctions, this comes across as very thin gruel attempting to pass itself off as a hearty meal of entertainment. Even at less than 90 intermissionless minutes, there's barely enough content to fill up the show.

It's hard to judge the music and lyrics on a single hearing. As noted earlier, the music seems to be difficult to sing. The songs have a contemporary theatre sound and aren't catchy, but there is a professional feel to them. "Academy" seems to be a very commendable effort from a talented newcomer. The show took ten years to achieve its premiere, so John Mercurio is beyond the newcomer stage at this point. It will be interesting to see what he accomplishes in upcoming years.

The same is true of many of the cast members. Jeremy Wood and Lowrey Brown are already capable of throroughly professional performances. Nick Arapoglou gives a winning performance here too, having a solo number that he navigates without vocal problems. Greg Bosworth does well in his limited role. The others are all good actors, and will no doubt be fully successful in other musicals in the future.

It's wonderful that Aurora Theatre is giving new or unfamiliar works ample opportunities to shine in its current season and in its upcoming season. "Academy," though, still needs a little burnishing (both as a play and as a production) to truly shine. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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