Sunday, October 12, 2008


Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn
Directed by Jeremy Sams
Starring Al Calderon, Eamon Foley, Caitlin Gann, Ariana Grande, Aaron Simon Gross, Elizabeth Gillies, Malik Hammond, Joey La Varco, Delaney Moro, Eric Nelsen, Graham Phillips, Allie Trimm, Brynn Williams

Performances from September 16, 2008

Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street

Phillips and 13 cast
(photo : Joan Marcus)
A talented baker’s dozen of teenagers acting, singing and dancing their way through 13, the new musical by Jason Robert Brown (Parade, Urban Cowboy), is not at fault that their first Broadway vehicle is as hackneyed and un-edgy as other shows aimed at younger audiences like Legally Blonde and Passing Strange.

13 follows Evan, a Jewish kid from the Upper West Side who is plucked from the center of the universe and dropped in a hick Indiana town after his parents’ divorce. He befriends geeky but cute next-door neighbor Patrice yet wants to be accepted by dumb jock Brett and his group of friends, the most popular guys and gals at Evan’s new school. At issue: will the “cool” kids attend Evan’s bar mitzvah?

That Evan shuns Patrice and her lone friend, the crippled (but oh so witty) Archie, for them is never in doubt, and neither is that he finally summons the courage to tell off Brett and his minions. But we knew all that going in: 13 should be judged not on its pedestrian story, characters or dialogue, but on its pedestrian music and lyrics.

In keeping with his teenage characters–and, presumably, their target audience–Brown has written mostly peppy power-op tunes that sound like outtakes from an Avril Lavigne CD. Alongside these are equally mechanical forays into doo-wop and Motown, apparently to sate the parents in the audience. The kids put them over as best they can, but they all sound canned, not the joyous musical explosions they want to be.

When Brown turns the guitars down a notch, he churns out competent if uninspired ballads, sung with real feeling by Allie Trimm (Patrice), an uncloyingly natural singer that’s rare to hear nowadays in a world where everyone is too vocally pushy, desperate to be the next “American Idol” winner. Trimm’s three solo spotlights (“It’s the lamest Place in the World,” “What It Means to Be a Friend,” and “Good Enough”) are, unsurprisingly enough, the show’s high points.

As Evan, Graham Phillips exudes a mature confidence that’s never cocky; that he’s also a stage veteran (he was in the operas An American Tragedy at the Met and The Little Prince at City Opera) helps immeasurably. The 11 others do their jobs with youthful exuberance that only rarely is too much to take.

Jeremy Sams has directed punchily, and choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s moves never seem artificial or spectacular–in other words, they are an extension of the teen’s personalities. David Farley’s sets are tongue-in-cheek send-ups of the kids’ usual haunts (classroom, locker room, movie theater, even a Dairy Queen), and David MacDevitt’s exceptional lighting is up to his usual high standards.

Don Elish and Robert Horn’s book, unfortunately, seems to be a cut-and-paste job, with standard school shenanigans that we’ve seen in everything from Happy Days to The Breakfast Club interpolated with current references to YouTube, Facebook, and cell phone cameras. Their labored one-liners are a compendium of recycled Jewish jokes, geek jokes, jock jokes, cripple jokes, and even gay jokes–although there’s not one gay character in the entire school. But since youngsters are saying them (as The Bad News Bears originally proved three decades ago), no one minds, since they have no sting. But neither does 13.

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