BOTTOM LINE: I would’ve really liked this musical when I was 13.
13 is one of this season’s new, big-budget Broadway musicals. It’s the story of 12-year-old Evan, who’s forced to move to small-town Indiana from Manhattan when his parents get divorced. As his bar mitzvah nears, he has to get the popular kids to come to his awesome party, thereby solidifying his cool-kid status through his high school years. The music and lyrics, by Jason Robert Brown (he also wrote the score to The Last Five Years, one of my favorites), are energetic and sometimes funny. But the book, by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, couldn’t be more contrived if it were an episode of Saved by the Bell.
Luckily, the ensemble of 13 are quite good, and all of them are on track for tremendous success in adulthood. I actually spent a little too much time in my head casting them in future productions of Hairspray and Grease, and if reality is anything like my imagination, they’ll grow into dynamite performers. These teenagers are well cast: talented enough to pull off the show and awkward enough to be completely age appropriate. They’re also bursting with energy and sheer joy for the opportunity they’ve been given. As a result, they’re fun to watch.
There are some good components to 13, though ultimately it falls flat. I laughed out loud on a number of occasions; for example, the kids attend Dan Quayle Middle School. And some of the music rocks pretty hard — the opening number, appropriately called “13/Becoming a Man,” has been stuck in my head all day. The stage band is surprisingly solid, considering that all five members are teenagers themselves. But all in all the play’s creativity is sparse at the expense of telling a simple, obvious story with a simple, obvious resolution. 13 lacks the “wow” moments that make live theatre so incredibly powerful, which is a disservice to both the audience and the performers. The kids onstage need something deeper to play, the kids in the audience can handle a more sincere story, and the adults who came with them deserve something to grab onto.
For what it’s worth, the audience members around me loved this show, to the point where the father behind me was verbally acknowledging the action onstage (oohs when the characters kissed and oh nos during a confrontational moment). There were tweens everywhere I looked; the median age of the audience was probably around 20. If I were 13 I’d be in utter bliss seeing this play. But I’m not, and I wasn’t.
Which makes me wonder who this show is really for. If it’s designed to attract teenagers to the theatre and capture a fleeting market usually distracted by video games, TV, and other on-screen entertainment, then it’s appealing perfectly to its target. But if it’s also supposed to resonate with adults, reminding them of their own teenage years, it misses by a long shot. That’s unfortunate, because premise-wise 13 taps into a great genre.
13 is a perfect show to take your kids to. If nothing else, it has more integrity than the Disney schlock currently on Broadway, and it appeals to an older kid demographic as well. I’d bet big money that tweens and teens will really enjoy this show, and there are certainly some well-executed moments throughout the production. It’s an entertaining 90 minutes, but it’s not likely to evoke much emotion in theatregoers who have high school diplomas.
13 plays at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th, between 7th and 8th Ave. Remaining showtimes through 10/12 are Sat 8 PM and Sun 2 and 7 PM; as of 10/14 showtimes are Tue-Thu 7 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, and Sun 2 and 7 PM. Go to telecharge.com for tickets and 13themusical.com for show info, and visit theatreiseasy.com for more reviews and NY theatre information.