December 2, 2014

Alumni Gather for “The Underclassman”

On Thursday November 13, Princeton Arts Alumni gathered for a pre-show mingle and discussion with Prospect Theater Company’s co-founder and Artistic Directer Cara Reichel ’96 and cast members from the company’s new musical, The Underclassman, at the Duke New 42 theater in New York City. With music and lyrics by fellow Prospect Theater founder Peter Mills ’96The Underclassman strikes a poignant chord for all those Princeton alumni in the audience who get to see the magic of the best ol’ place of all, in full musical glory, on stage before their eyes.

With alumni Adam Hyndman ’12, Pilar Castro Kiltz ’10, Catherine Cohen ’13, Olivia Stoker ’11, Tina deVaron ’78 and others in attendance, the vibrant pre-show conversation with Reichel ’96 and cast member Billy Hepfinger ’10, was centered on talk of the show’s inception, development and the process behind creating, producing and performing a brand new full-length musical based on the life and story of F. Scott Fitzgerald during his days at Princeton.

The musical focuses on the fabled romance between Fitzgerald and famed debutante Ginevra King, an influential relationship in Fitzgerald’s early life that may have, as the closing lines of The Underclassman suggest, provided inspiration for Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby. Woven throughout the play are references to both the literary and the historical, creating a clear, yet complicated conjuring of the time in which Fitzgerald was coming of age, and doing so at Princeton.

Whether those in the audience attended Princeton or not, all enjoyed the two-and-a-half hour performance featuring an ensemble of nineteen actors, strong in song, dance, and drama. Especially gripping were the performances from the trio of male leads, Matt Dengler, Billy Hepfinger, and Marrick Smith, who crafted the sense of collegiate fraternity amongst Fitzgerald and his friends that was born through the ups and downs of Princeton campus life.

Peter Mills’s talents at composition and orchestration are undeniable, especially for any audience member with an ear for the subtle and skillful ways Mills pastiches not only the musical styles that would have been heard in Fitzgerald’s early 20th century youth, but also the concept of a “musical” itself.

Prospect Theater has been creating innovative and critically acclaimed musicals and theater pieces since 1998 and one could go on about the merits of The Underclassman, which has moments of humor, poignancy and at time, chilling reality. Although its run at Duke New 42 wrapped up November 30, we can hope that future productions will come to fruition as Prospect Theater continues to grow support for this piece.

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