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College The Musical

Part of The New York Musical Theatre Festival

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

If you're assuming that a New York Musical Theatre Festival show titled College The Musical, set in a dorm room before, after, and especially during regular rocking keggers, is unlikely to drip with profundity, you're right. Authors Drew Fornorola and Scott Elmegreen make no attempt to hide the fact in their program bios that they're both recent Princeton grads; their show's focus on college's traditional niceties - booze, sex, and videogames - and the looming specter of an uncertain adulthood ahead would have given them away in any event. But whoever said that elegance requires eloquence?

In the way it embraces pizza-scented confusion and beer-stained hopes without excusing them, College The Musical is an unusually advanced example of young men finding their voices while writing about other young people finding their own. Fornorola and Elmegreen fearlessly employ familiar archetypes and stereotypes to show how one properly oriented can escape them; this is more daring than you might think when major characters include a gym-obsessed jock, a caffeine addict, and a bulging-eyed cop just dying to catch them and their friends doing something illegal.

The specific story revolves around freshman Nathan (Michael Jennings Mahoney), who stumbles into a nonstop bacchanal in which he learns that round-the-clock partying isn't all it's cracked up to be. The efforts of the group's ringleader Jay (Rob Hancock) to bring Nathan permanently into the fold, and the attempts of the moderation-focused Katherine (Marie-France Arcilla) to keep him grounded, both against the background of the eternally alluring abdication of responsibility, make for more tension than you might expect.

The score operates much the same way, subtly evolving from expansive revels into (relatively) pointed social and emotional commentary. The entropy of the partying life mutates from realistic numbers to the surreal, not-so-mock-religious "Alcoholeluia"; the ultimate drunken dating rationalizing "Good Enough for Now" is sung directly against "All Together, All Alone," which is heartbreaking in its unadorned romantic plaintiveness. Nathan's musical journey from libidinous youth to more-sensible man utilizes many of the same ideas and phrases, as if to prove that growing up doesn't always change who we are at heart.

If this isn't rigorously original writing, it's at least genuinely thoughtful. The addition of real experience behind the scenes no doubt helped - musical director Mark Hartman and director Jeremy Dobrish have luxuriously recognizable names, and bestow their gravitas and professionalism on an up-and-coming team that needs exactly that. While the performers as a whole aren't particularly memorable - the lovely, naturally honest Arcilla; Damon Gravina as the neurotic bookworm; and Sandy Rosenberg as the absurdly Keystone cop, Officer Agnes, being the exceptions - they sound terrific and bring the right festive energy to Boo Killebrew's intoxicated choreography and the rest of the show.

Except, of course, during "Generation Meh," the late-show song in which they're roused to inaction by the belief - shared by so many in their late teens and early 20s - that they can never make a difference, so why bother trying? Their apathy keenly defines the plight of millions failing to find something in the modern world worth fighting for. But this song - like much of the rest of College The Musical - happily proves that Fornorola and Elmegreen don't subscribe to that philosophy themselves.

Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York Musical Theatre Festival