Theater review: "Academy"

Give Aurora Theatre a proverbial A for effort for its ambitious undertaking of “Academy,” a new musical set at a posh boys boarding school and presumably “suggested” by the classic story of Faust. There’s something to be said for taking a gamble on a show that’s relatively untested and hardly mainstream – or something to be sung for it, to cite the lyrics of one song in which two of the students contemplate “the road less traveled, the path unknown.”

Then again, to quote another line of dialogue, “The dignity of the act is more important than the result.”

Scripted and scored by John Mercurio, “Academy” tries to accomplish too much in too little time. Running 90 minutes without intermission, the show seems overcrowded with some 20 songs. The characters and their relationships feel underdeveloped. The whole Faustian angle comes across as slightly pretentious instead of fully realized.

The central conflict involves Benji DuPres (marginally portrayed by Bryan Lee), a nerdy and impressionable freshman. No sooner has he freaked out over a ladybug than he becomes the object of a vaguely drawn wager between Amory (Lowrey Brown) and Michael (standout Jeremy Wood), two seniors scheming for control of his very soul. Rounding out director Freddie Ashley’s cast in extraneous or interchangeable supporting roles: Nick Arapoglou, Greg Bosworth, Mike Morin and Jacob York.

Each of the boys struggles to come of age, to define himself as “the man I dream to be.” Dressed in their matching uniforms, they sing about “hiding all traces of what makes us different,” but part of Mercurio’s problem is the lack of genuine distinction between the characters. At least four of them, for instance, are grappling with variations of the same daddy issues.

And there’s a gay sensibility to “Academy” that goes nowhere fast – flimsy innuendo passing for legitimate subtext. How serious can the peer pressure be, given York’s role as a bullying jock with a secret passion for fashion design and ballet dancing? In one amusing bit, two of the kids try to make (and then avoid) eye contact during choir practice.

Under the music direction of Ann-Carol Pence (leading a five-piece orchestra), the show’s best number is “A Little Company,” a duet performed by Lee and Wood that resonates most clearly as a bona fide love song. Despite having little else to do, Arapoglou also excels with his solo “Perfect Day,” all about his character’s father (of course).

Ashley’s production boasts yet another stylish scenic design by Phillip Male (“Albatross,” “A Catered Affair”) – a stately campus of stone archways, staircases and walls (replete with ivy), including a courtyard set piece that rotates into a library, and even an impressive bell tower where the melodramatic climax of the story takes place.

“Academy” may not be a total sell out, but its good intentions alone aren’t quite enough.


Theater review


Grade: B-

Through April 10. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 6. $16-$35. Aurora Theatre, 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222.

Bottom Line: A show with more courage than conviction.