From Grease to Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? to High School Musical, there has been no shortage of teen-oriented musicals. And in recent years, another entry, the aptly named 13 has become a popular choice for community and middle school groups. McLean Community Players has mounted an energetic new production at the Alden Theatre, directed by Kevin Sockwell. Is 13 their lucky number?
Twelve-year-old Evan Goldberg (Cuinn Casey) is devastated when he learns that his family will be moving from cool New York City to lame Appleton, Indiana. As the new kid on the block, he struggles to find his place in that most volatile of environments, the American middle school. Evan wants to be a part of the cool crowd, mainly so that his upcoming birthday/Bar Mitzvah party will be a big success. (He refers to the event as the “Jewish Superbowl.”) As Evan navigates his way through the various social strata of his school, he begins to reevaluate his priorities. Should he sell out in order to become popular?
Evan’s adventures in middle school do take some interesting twists and turns, and the writers portray these wonder years with a mixture of affection and warm-hearted satire.
13 features music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (a Tony winner for “Parade”) and book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn. The characters fall into fairly familiar types. There’s the dumb, stuck up jock (Will Hemmingson), the nerdy girl with a good heart (Tori Garcia), the Rizzo-ish schemer (Bailey Drew) and the pretty girl everyone wants (Isabela Gaskill). The characters mostly stay within their standard types, and little effort has been made by the writers to provide some grace notes that might enrich them. The exception is Archie (John Ray), a self-described “cripple” who walks with crutches and suffers from a serious degenerative disease. Archie makes jokes about his condition and occasionally leverages it to get what he wants. He is the play’s most original creation, and a welcomed breath of fresh air.
While the characters may feel cookie cutter, the plot moves along at a brisk pace, and we’re never less than fully engaged. Evan’s adventures in middle school do take some interesting twists and turns, and the writers portray these wonder years with a mixture of affection and warm-hearted satire. The songs are genuinely well written and memorable. The only real false note came in Patrice’s early number, “The Lamest Place In The World.” Although well performed by Tori Garcia, it seems unlikely that a teen girl would let down her guard so quickly to the cute boy she has just met.
The whole cast performs their roles with tremendous high energy and infectious fun. Lead actor Cuinn Casey resembles a young Frankie Muniz, and he sings and dances the role of Evan with impish self-confidence. As Patrice, Tori Garcia had the strongest and most compelling female voice. Bailey Drew vested her teen schemer character Lucy with delicious menace. Ryan Selig (Malcolm) and Alex Weinstein (Eddie) were a lot of fun as the jock’s goofy sidekicks.
Director Kevin Sockwell kept the scenes moving at a tight pace and staged them with creativity and flair. Mariana Barros’ energetic choreography combined different styles to successfully utilize the talents of the dancers in the company. Sets by Bill Brown cleverly employed panels and projections to efficiently establish locations. A six-piece band, led by Itai Yasur provided able music support. At the performance reviewed, there were some microphone issues, although one assumes those problems will be addressed for subsequent shows.
Perhaps 13’s most impressive accomplishment is how it’s able to locate a successful middle ground of tone. It’s neither too babyish nor too mature for the age group being depicted. Despite the story’s emphasis on romance and dating, the show steers mercifully clear of overly explicit references.
Adults in the audience will probably have no trouble guessing what lessons 13 will eventually impart about conformity, friendship and maturity. Nevertheless, these lessons are delivered with earnestness and a welcomed lack of schmaltz or preachiness.
Unsurprisingly, it is Archie and not Evan who articulates the show’s most compelling final insights (in a number called “If That’s What It Is”). The show ends on a satisfying realistic (but nevertheless hopeful) note about middle school, and about life beyond it. Teens will likely relate to the show on its own terms, but there’s plenty here for adult audiences as well (and not just the nostalgia factor). With strong music, energetic performances and a high paced, consistently engaging story, 13 gets a solid recommend.
Running Time: Two hour and ten minutes, including a fifteen-minute intermission.
Advisory: Age ten and up. (Brief strobe light usage.)
13 plays through February 15, 2015 at McLean Community Players performing at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre – 1234 Ingleside Avenue in McLean, VA. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.