April 25, 2012

College Applicants Define Themselves in 500 Words or Less, In “Admissions: the Musical,” Student-Written Comedy at Intime

Theater Rev

“THIS IS JUST A TEST”: (left to right) Archie (Chris Doubet), Jamie (Catherine Cohen), Ted (Adam Stasiw), Melanie (Julia Phillips), and Chris (Jordan Adelson), with the proctor (Jake Robertson) in the background, endure the horrors of the SAT test, just one of the many ordeals they undergo in “Admissions: The Musical,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through April 28.

Admissions: The Musical

“Please somebody out there. Won’t you let us in?” Anybody who has participated recently in the college admissions rat race or who looks forward to that experience in the near future or who can remember college admissions traumas of long ago can relate to Admissions: The Musical, written, directed and performed by Princeton University undergraduates.

The college adviser interview, the application essay (“500 words or less”), the SAT tests, the strained relationships and shattered dreams of high school senior year, the alumni interview and the long-awaited decision letter — all come under the scrutiny of this often funny, sharply satiric, sometimes poignant musical comedy.

Sporadically brilliant, tuneful, and entertaining throughout, Admissions is the creation of experienced Princeton Triangle Show writers Dan Abromowitz, Clayton Raithel, and Nora Sullivan, with skillful, focused, purposeful direction by J.T. Glaze. A collaborative effort of Theatre Intime and the Princeton University Players, the show features a cast of five principals plus five versatile ensemble members, a pit orchestra of four under the direction of Kevin Laskey, and eleven different musical numbers in two acts spanning two hours, including an intermission.

The music — mostly rock or ballad numbers, with a traditional musical comedy quality — is appealing throughout, as the lyrics range from the mundane to the highly clever and witty. The tone of the show also ranges widely, from outrageously campy and absurd to serious, sentimental, and moving. The evening is enjoyable, and the accomplishments of these talented writers, performers, and producers are admirable — uneven but admirable.

From the first guidance counselor college meeting to the fateful opening of the college decision letter, the plot spans most of a year at Salmon P. Chase High School for five seniors: Ted (Adam Stasiw), Melanie (Julia Phillips), Jamie (Catherine Cohen), Chris (Jordan Adelson) and Archie (Chris Doubet). From “Senior year’s going to be amazing,” to “All joy has been crushed out of me,” this group lives through the ups and downs of the college application and admission process.

Chris, an athlete, and Jamie, an academic star, have been a couple since freshmen year. They can’t imagine being apart, and the fact that Chris will never get into the colleges Jamie is applying to brings their lives to a crisis point. Mr. Adelson and Ms. Cohen develop this relationship with intensity, credibility and humor, as the two teenagers struggle to stay together against the odds. They blend vocal strength with on-target characterizations in a couple of duets, “The Future Is Ours” in the first act (reprised with a twist in the second act) and “Reasons to Stay” in the second act.

Melanie, a singer and stressed-out music conservatory applicant, is suffering the pressures of preparing for auditions. Ms. Phillips’ Melanie, putting her life on hold, is sympathetic in her attempts to understand herself and her dreams in the face of the travails of college admissions. She sings a memorable counterpoint duet “Pass You By,” (“Don’t Let the Year Pass You By”) with Ted early in the evening, then comes to an epiphany near the end of the evening in a strong solo piece where she realizes, “That was my dream, but now it’s not.”

Mr. Stasiw’s Ted provides first-rate vocal skills, a charismatic presence, and a healthy contrasting perspective to the group, as he opts out of the admissions competition and decides to work and travel after high school.

The most tortured character of all, Archie is from a University of Pennsylvania family, but he doesn’t get in. As the first act ends, Mr. Doubet’s Archie tries to convince himself that “I’m Okay,” but with parents like his (Alexis Kleinman and Adam Mastroianni), hilariously over-the-top caricatures of the obsessive mother and father, his road to college will not be smooth.

In addition to the over-bearing parents, Mr. Mastroianni and Ms. Kleinman, along with Jake Robertson, Amy Solomon, and Chris Murphy take on a number of colorful roles, from guidance counselors, teachers, and high school students, to admissions officers and alumni interviewers. Mr. Mastroianni, Ms. Solomon, and Mr. Murphy even don the appropriate wigs and costumes to appear as Beethoven, Mozart, and Georges Bizet to participate in one of Melanie’s tortured dreams.

The ensemble is well rehearsed and directed, switching seamlessly among a variety of roles, and providing consistently focused, high-energy support for the five principals. Of the five leads, Mr. Stasiw and Mr. Adelson stand out in displaying vocal and dramatic talents as they create their vivid convincing characters.

Alex Pimentel’s flexible unit set, with blue and green blocks of various sizes on the main part of the stage and the four-piece orchestra pit above at upstage center, works efficiently and effectively in staging the numerous rapidly-moving scenes of the show in the close quarters of the Intime performance area. Stage right serves as Archie’s family dining room, and the far stage left area provides the forum for a series of humorous monologue parodies in which students deliver reflective personal excerpts from their college application essays.

Expert lighting by Alex Kasdin uses a rich variety of colors on the cyclorama wall to vary the mood and deftly delineates the shifts in scene and tone throughout the show.

The pit orchestra is excellent, and Mr. Glaze has directed the show with a sure hand, staging the action smoothly and clearly, balancing orchestra and voices and keeping the pace moving throughout the many different scenes from start to finish. Diction and projection are less than perfect, with lines, either sung or spoken, occasionally not clear. Choreography by Mr. Glaze and Alison Goldblatt is generally unremarkable, but complements the proceedings successfully.

As the 2012 college admissions extravaganza winds down, acceptance and rejection letters have been opened and final choices have been made or are imminent; College Admissions: the Musical offers a refreshingly light-hearted perspective on the whole ordeal. The satire is delightfully trenchant, the humor is mostly sharp and on target, the music is pleasing, and the PUP/Theatre Intime premiere production provides an enjoyable evening.

“Admissions” will run for one more weekend, April 26-28, at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday and at 8 and 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 27. Call (609) 258-1742 or visit www.princeton.edu/utickets for information.