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 is 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 Last Five Years, one of my favorite scores), are energetic and sometimes funny. 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 cast of 13 is quite good and all are on the 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. As a result, they're fun to watch.
There are some good components to this show although 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. Also, the band is surprisingly solid, considering they themselves are 5 teenagers. But at the end of the day, the creativity is sparse at the expense of telling a simple, obvious story with a simple, obvious resolution. It lacks the "wow" moments that make live theatre so incredibly powerful. And ultimately, that's a disservice to both the audience and the performers. The kids on stage need something deeper to play, the kids in the audience can handle a more sincere story, and the adults in the audience deserve something to grab onto.
For what it's worth, the audience around me loved this show...to the point where the father behind me was verbally acknowledging the action on stage ("ooo's" when the characters kissed and "oh no's" when a moment got confrontational). There were tweens everywhere I looked; the median age of the audience was probably around 20. And if I were 13 and seeing this show, I would've been in utter bliss. But I'm not, and I wasn't.
Which makes me wonder who this show is really for. If it's designed to pull teenagers to the theatre, make it accessible and relatable, and capture a fleeting market (usually distracted by video games, tv, and other things on screens) then it's appealing perfectly to its target. 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 kids 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 anyone over 18.
(13 plays at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th between 7th and 8th Avenues. Show times are (until Oct. 13) Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. After Oct. 13 show times are Tuesday through Thursday at 7pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. For tickets visit telecharge.com. Visit 13themusical.com for more show info.)