Monday, October 20, 2008


Took my now eleven-year-old to see this new Broadway musical for Saturday’s matinee show and thoroughly enjoyed it (sorry about the image to the left, my scanner won't let me crop anything anymore).

It’s not the most innovative, original, creatively inspiring musical (like say OKLAHOMA! was when it first came out and still continues to be in many ways—our friend Jaime Rose, back East for a visit a few weeks ago, took me and my son to the most Broadway like theater in this part of Jersey, The Papermill Playhouse, to see their latest version of OKLAHOMA! and we not only loved this classic old theater—which I had never been in before, having grown up with a chip on my shoulder about what I took for the wealthy snobby people who could afford it back when—but were impressed with the production, the leads all terrific, the female singers sounding like angels, the dance numbers well executed, especially the barroom dancehall-girl sequence which came across as still radically in-your-face physical in a way the movie never has as the male dancers slowly spin the females who hold their legs spread as wide as possible—I can’t imagine how confrontationally risqué that must have seemed when it was first performed over a half century ago and was surprised at how it still seems radically transgressive).

But 13 is still a great Broadway musical experience (and thanks to Jamie again since she sent the email with the half price ticket offer I took advantage of).

First of all because, the cast, including the onstage band, are all teenagers (Allie Trimm, the female lead playing a thirteen-year-old, is actually thirteen) and all terrific.

We missed the evening shows’ lead, Graham Phillips (the middle son in EVAN ALMIGHTY) but the matinee lead, Cory J. Snide, did a fine job carrying the show as Evan, the character the plot pivots on.

Eric M Nelsen as the “most popular boy in school” character was so good at depicting this dim bulb jock’s cluelessness, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. My son recognized him from just one guest shot on ICARLY, one of his favorite Disney TV shows.

A diminutive actor, Al Calderon, also had me in tears from laughing so hard with his depiction of the funny sidekick (along with Malik Hammond, also funny and multi-talented).

In fact, I have to admit, it brought tears to my eyes just seeing the talent displayed. I’m a sap for live performers who give it their all, even when it isn’t the best I’ve experienced.

But in this case, the level of performance chops in the cast—from singing and dancing to comic and poignant acting moments—was as good as any adult Broadway show.

And I was always a sap for musicals. I took a lot of heat as a kid and a young man for digging musicals when most males looked at them as entertainment for females and gay men. I took solace in the fact that the musicals I dug were ones from which many of my jazz idols and models borrowed tunes for their own gigs and recordings. If Miles and Coltrane dug these tunes, they couldn’t be all that sappy.

I find it interesting that the tradition of the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-in-the-end plot that fueled classic Broadway musicals like OKLAHOMA!—as well as romantic comedies on both stage and in films—seems so sentimental and unreal in this post-Sondheim age, and is mostly seen now in films—and now in this play—with plots that center around teenagers or men who still act like teens and are nebbishy Jewish anti-heroes, as in the Judd Apatow films and this musical. 13 may be the first Broadway musical in which the plot hinges on the lead’s plans for his Bar Mitzvah party.

Another great thing about 13 is that it has no intermission. It’s about ninety minutes long and the scenes flow into each other so well and so rapidly, with scene changes done by the cast in seconds (the sets are fantastic as well, evoking Manhattan and a small town in Indiana with a few bold strokes, as well as teen bedrooms, classrooms, school halls and the Dairy Queen, equally minimal but powerfully evocative) that the time flies by.

The energy in the dance numbers and ensemble songs is so contagious, they’re worth the price of admission alone. I highly recommend this if you have teens or pre-teens, or if you still have any of that youthful spirit in your own heart.

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