NYMF Review: Academy

For my third NYMF show this year, I went with "Academy". Mostly because I was aiming to see a musical with a friend whose schedule and mine only allowed for a number of shows, and she was a huge Urinetown fan (Urinetown's choreographer, John Caraffa, directed "Academy".)

The direction for "Academy", by the way, surely does not disappoint. A 80-minute musical about two upper-class prep boys making a high-stakes bet on whether they can compromise the integrity of a bright-eyed underclassman, the show moves swiftly through a story involving quick scenes, reflective musical numbers and a mix of major and minor characters. The cast is usually great--although at times Steven Kane's performance as the main sympathetic underclassman is often too over-caffinated and over-the-top. The music is enjoyable, and the lyrics were often surprising and clever, particularly the rhyme choices. The songs are courtesy of John Mercurio, who has a bright future as a songwriter.

His future as a bookwriter is a bit thinner. First off all, we get that it's a play off of Faust, and the adaptation is usually apt. But the continued need to reference the source material shows a lack of confidence in the adaptation: the main character is the role of Faust in the school play, characters recite Faust lines in between scenes, even the last scene is performed with the equivalent scene from Faust being performed alongside it just in case they hadn't hit you over the head enough. Would we have really needed a scene in West Side Story where we learn that in their spare time, Tony and Maria like to read Shakespearean romantic tragedy?

The real shame here is that when the show is 80 minutes and while much of it is fantastic in tone and really draws you into the world, 25% of it is spent with Faust references and irrelevant songs about inner feelings. You're left with a plot structure that suffers, especially when a student sings a song that seems out of character and a little too introspective/poetic. The "Devil" student only does one devlish thing, which is to have the "Faust" stand-in believe that he is failing school and that he needs to break into the teacher's computer to steal test answers. Yes, this is all you need in real life to get kicked out of a prep school, but when an 80-minute musical can be told in half that time, it stretches out a premise that had enough potential to stretch it out.

When the show does work, it's very strong and poignant. Were this a longer show I'd say it just needs to cut out the flat parts and all would be easily fixed. I'm sure that some of my disappointment was partially due to the strong buzz surrounding this show, and as an NYMF alumni I should know better. Before NYMF begins, even the people who run it don't have the faintest idea as to what's good and what's not, save for half of the shows being the cream script-wise of all the shows that were blind-submitted. Still "Academy" is mostly enjoyable and the production is slick and strong, and I do think with 2 rewrites it could have quite a lot of promise.

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