Classy performance: Aurora Theatre stages new musical 'Academy'

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie<br> Pete Neville, played by Nick Arapoglou, left, Benji DuPres, played by Bryan Lee , center, and Theodore Gert, played by Mike Morin, right, play a scene in the  musical  "Academy."

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie
Pete Neville, played by Nick Arapoglou, left, Benji DuPres, played by Bryan Lee , center, and Theodore Gert, played by Mike Morin, right, play a scene in the musical "Academy."

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Just one year ago, the Aurora was the first regional theater 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 the Aurora Theatre is staging the new pop chamber musical "Academy," by John Mercurio, conceived and created by Andrew Kato. The play opened Thursday at the Lawrenceville theater.

Inspired by Goethe's "Faust," "Academy" follows tensions at St. Edward's Academy that 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.

"Academy" offers a lesson in how much time and work goes into making a new musical. Ten years ago, Kato had the idea to set a musical in a prep school. He collaborated with Mercurio, who wrote the book and the score.

Over the past decade, "Academy" received many readings. Kato and Mercurio further refined the musical, and the show was selected from more than 300 works to be one of just a dozen presented at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in October 2009.

It was at that festival that "Academy" caught the eye of the Aurora's producing artistic director Anthony Rodriguez and associate producer and resident music director Ann-Carol Pence.

"It is my dream for Aurora to discover or create a Tony award-winning musical," Pence said. "By producing 'Academy' we are taking a big step in being the kind of theater to fulfill that dream."

At the New York Musical Theatre Festival Awards, "Academy" won for Excellence in Writing and for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. Later that year, "Academy" took top honors at the Daegu International Musical Festival in South Korea, winning the Production Award.

"Academy" received its world premiere in December at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, the company instrumental in the show's development. The Aurora production will provide the next chapter of this story of perseverance.

Returning to Aurora Theatre for the show are some favorites from recent productions, including Jeremy Wood ("Singin' in the Rain"), Lowrey Brown ("Sirens"), Jacob York ("Fat Pig") and Nick Arapoglou ("The Storytelling Ability of a Boy").

Making their Aurora debuts are Bryan Lee ("Cabaret," New American Shakespeare Tavern), Greg Bosworth ("I Dream," Musical-Dramatic Arts Inc. at the Woodruff Arts Center) and Mike Morin ("Cinderella," Atlanta Lyric Theatre).

Returning to the Aurora as director of "Academy" is Actor's Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley ("A Catered Affair," "Grey Gardens at Actor's Express"), who teams up with Atlanta choreographer Ricardo Aponte ("Christmas Canteen 2010;" "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," Georgia Ensemble Theatre).

The 2010 Suzi Award winner for Best Musical Direction ("A Catered Affair"), Pence completes the trio that has created some of Atlanta's most memorable musicals.

Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through April 10. Tickets cost $16 to $35.

For more information, call 678-226-6222 or visit www.auroratheatre.com