13, the Musical: A review of the Rochester, NY production from Stages
13, the Musical opened on Broadway in October of 2008, and ran through January, 2009. With music and lyrics by James Robert Brown and storyline by Dan Elish, it has just been released to the general public. A Magical Journey Thru Stages, Rochester's theater group that performs at the Upstage3 Theatre at the Auditorium Center, is the first group in western New York to produce the show. Featuring an all middle- and high-school cast of actors from throughout the greater Rochester area, 13 is directed by John Barthelmes.
The plot of 13 focuses on young Evan Goldman, from New York City. Just as he is about to turn 13, his parents divorce, and his mom moves with him to Appleton, Indiana ("the lamest place in the world"). This move creates a dilemma for Evan, not just because of the clash of cultures, but because it happens just before his Bar Mitzvah. Evan is convinced that a successful Bar Mitzvah party will be the key to acceptance by his peers in Appleton. But the "in" crowd requires that he reject the only two kids who have liked Evan for who he really is: his nerdy next-door neighbor Patrice, and Archie, a boy with a terminal illness who uses crutches to walk.
The theme of 13 is, of course, surviving one's teens years psychologically intact and minimizing one's damage to others during the process. I will admit that I was skeptical about 13; I thought that James Robert Brown might as well have made a musical about postpartum depression. After all, I remember being 13, it was an extremely painful and confusing age. Can such a subject possibly make for an upbeat musical with fantastic music and witty dialogue? Believe it or not, yes it can.
Evan at first chooses the cool kids over his nice friends, and even though that's somewhat predictable, the audience cringes as they're supposed to. But running through the plot is his rabbi's understated reminder that it's time to "be a man," and that's what Evan ends up choosing.
Who should see 13?
Much of the information in the media portrays 13 as the next High School Musical. It's not, really -- it's not Disneyesque or cartoonish enough to be appropriate for kids ages 6-10. The subjects it addresses lie somewhere between HSM and Grease: Its main running gag line is about The Tongue, there is a bit of potty humor, and I think I heard the words "penis" and "gay" each once. I had brought my 9-year-old, and all of that ran right over her head. (I had expected her to ask me about The Tongue in the car on the way home, but nary a word.) It would not however, have run over the head of my 10-year-old, who would have squirmed in embarrassment at some of the connotations if she had seen the show with us. I've just told you all of the awkward bits, though, so if your 'tween loves theater and musicals and can handle those, you've got a winner on your hands.
The show really is designed for, and is perfect for, 12-through-15-year-olds, who need to be thinking about exactly the issues the show examines. They comprised the majority of the audience; it was as though the population of the Rochester Teen Book Festival had transplanted itself into the Upstage3 Theatre at the Auditorium Center.
13 is running with two casts; the show I saw, with Cast A, finished last weekend, with only a few performers doing double-duty both weekends. So, although I must take the time to note particularly stand-out performances by Nick Magnanti as Evan, Sally Curran as Patrice, and Tim Hight as Archie, if you see the next set of shows, it will be with different cast members.
13 runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through Sunday, May 23, 2010 at the Upstage3 Theatre, Auditorium Center, downtown Rochester. Tickets are, appropriately, $13. Click here for showtimes and ticket ordering details.
This is a "socks or cereal" benefit for the Center for Youth's new shelter for homeless teens. If you see the show, please bring either new socks or a box of cereal to donate to the Center.