13 A Musical - Review

Move over 'High School Musical', the Mark Taper Forum has turned '13'.

Based on the book by Dan Elish, with lyrics and music by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown, '13' is a funny, exciting love letter to childhood and to the elusive moment when the child in all of us embarks on the path of adulthood. That moment is illuminated with song and dance and wit, performed by a very talented cast of teenaged pros.

Evan (Ricky Ashley) is the New Kid in town in 13: A Musical

We all know these kids from our own youth: the football jock, his hot cheerleader girlfriend, the geek that has no name. This new musical is brought to us through the eyes of the New Kid, Evan (Ricky Ashley), whose mother has uprooted him from his home in New York right on the heels of the parents divorcing. What's worse is that poor Evan is now friendless only weeks away from his Bar Mitzvah. Thus begins a young boy's quest to become part of the cool crowd so that there will be someone at his party besides himself, his mother, and the Rabbi.

How does Evan go about becoming part of the cool crowd? The usual way. He ditches you're best friend, Patrice, because she's not cool enough. Then he invites all the Cool Kids to a party. Evan never counts on the drama that comes with being part of the Cool crowd, or being emotionally blackmailed by Archie (Tyler Mann), the school cripple who, as Evan finds out, can wields guilt with the best of Jews.

The Cool Crowd questions the new Kid

At first glance, the stage appeared minimally dressed with a metal catwalk stretched across the center of the stage proscenium, a set of stairs at the end. Simple gray and whites flats display an aerial map of our location, Appleton, Indiana. However, once the show began, the flats revolved to reveal new scenery, placing us at school lockers, or the cafeteria. More flats slide aside and the catwalk extends back to a raised platform where the band plays. (no longer banished unseen in the orchestra pit) Coupled with set pieces rolled in on tracks, the once minimal stage transformed countless times, allowing us to follow these kids everywhere.

The Cast of 13: geek and chic don't mix

The lighting design was great, punctuating subtle scene changes and not so subtle dream sequences. At one point, the school jock is stricken with woe at the realization that he has lost his would-be girlfriend, right in the middle of the big game. His collision of adrenaline and lovesickness is projected n huge scale through thought-bubbles against the catwalk flats. The slides were a clever device for conveying the randomness and power of a teenager's changing hormones.

The costumes were well thought out and functional, allowed both the audience to defined characters types in a glance, and the players to transform into multiple characters with ease. It was quite amusing to see how sunglasses and just a few undone buttons made the difference between the coolest dude and lowest geek. Even the band, which also happened to be made up of teenaged performers, had costume changes to accompany the changing scenes. The musicians went from garage grunge to referee jerseys for the football sequence to cocktail blazers for the finale. I found that to be a very nice touch.

Brown's score is a youthful, energetic potpourri of sound, seizing every opportunity to throw in a dash of reggae and salsa, rock and quiet lullaby. The vocal arrangements were fairly simple and at times, it feels like you are watching an actual high school musical. I found myself wanting something more intricate. However, in essence, that is exactly what the show is: angstful teens bursting into song. Anything more vocally complex would be a contradiction to the world in which the show is taking place. Moreover, the songs did feel more mature as the play progressed. I particularly enjoyed the duet 'Tell Her' and the coming of age solo by Ashley entitled 'Getting Over It'.

Tyler Mann, Ricky Ashley & Sara Niemietz are geek squad of 13

The entire cast was great, in acting pitch as well as song, with special note to Tyler Mann for sustaining a brilliant Gilbert Godfrey impression. They danced every musical number. Director Todd Graff makes sure there is never dull moment by keeping his cast of teenage phenoms on their toes for a non-stop 90 minutes. There are several moments of audience participation that allowed the cast to spread their electricity throughout the theatre. Every individual performance was truly well done.

Although somewhat idealistic as a whole, '13' does not shy away from the more dramatic moments. The play encompasses the entire tapestry of adolescence, without taking itself too seriously, or asking too much of its audience. This show is a lot of fun; a musical for kids both young and old.

'13' runs through February 18, 2007 at The Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more information visit:


 Photos by Craig Schwartz

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