Review: 13 The Musical
Image: Ambassadors Theatre
A hilarious, coming-of-age story about discovering that 'cool' is sometimes where we least expect it.
Geek. Poser. Jock. Beauty Queen. Wannabe.
These are the labels that can last a lifetime.
With an unforgettable rock score from Tony Award-winning composer, Jason Robert Brown, (Parade, The Last Five Years, Bridges of Madison County) 13 is a musical about fitting in - and standing out!
Evan Goldman is plucked from his fast-paced, preteen New York City life and plopped into a sleepy Indiana town following his parents divorce.
Surrounded by an array of simpleminded middle school students, he needs to establish his place in the popularity pecking order.
Can he situate himself on a comfortable link of the food chain … or will he dangle at the end with the outcasts?!?
Composed of a precocious cast, no character in 13 is older than the show's title, making it wonderful for theatre companies that feature young artists.
In the Broadway production, even the band was made up of teens, which is a fantastic way to involve a diverse group of artists.
The cast is comprised entirely of teenagers, but the stories that come to life here are ageless, the emotions they explore timeless, the laughter and the memories they provide priceless.
This youth production is presented by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe).
This musical is designed specifically for a teenage cast and here it's performed with bubbling gusto and near jaw-dropping skill by a team of hugely talented young actors from The British Theatre Academy.
Since the show is designed for young people, the story is sensibly set in a school - and that proves perfect for providing characters aplenty that we can all instantly recognise - the sports jock types and their wannabe confederates, the popular and not so popular students, those classed as 'geeks' and more besides.
It's familiar territory, yet this show manages to breathe volumes of fresh air into the subject and setting with intelligent and very funny writing, and cleverly-drawn characters.
Just about to make 'teenhood' with his 13th birthday in sight, Evan Goldman finds life is not all plain sailing.
As a Jewish boy, he's Anticipating his Bar Mitzvah which, for him at least, means having a stupendous birthday bash at a swanky venue with a huge crowd of pals at hand to help him celebrate.
But his plans are potentially dashed when his parents split up and his mother drags him off to Appleton, Indiana, described in the show as "the lamest place in the world".
Evan's challenge is to settle into his new home and school and use fancy footwork to charm his way into acquiring some new friends and make his birthday the stunning event he imagines it should be.
But, as in many schools, the divisions in the student body mean he has to cope with some larger issues about popularity and personality, and decide just who his real friends could and should be.
Jason Robert Brown's music incorporates some appealingly inventive and hummable tunes which aptly fit the story and the setting.
And Dan Elish and Robert Horn's book is almost written as though it's going to be performed by adults rather than teenagers, and that not only brings an invigorating novelty to the dialogue, but also provides surprising and very humorous characters, delivering plenty of very funny moments and continual chuckling throughout.
Director Ewan Jones provides inspired and meticulous direction here, leaving no opportunity unexplored to exploit the material to the full, and assigning some inventive movement to the characters to bring-out their, sometimes quirky personalities.
Additionally, his choreography is simple but highly effective eliciting pretty-well flawless dance routines from the cast.
"Amazing", said one woman walking near me as we left the theatre after the show.
And in almost all respects I agree with that spontaneous verdict.
Moreover, a standing ovation come the curtain calls seemed to align the general audience opinion with that view too.
However, though there are some powerful voices among the principals and the company singing is impressively cohesive, some of the individual singing was a little weak at times with occasions when the lyrics were not audible enough.
Watching this show, it's reassuring to know that British musical theatre is in safe hands - for its from the ranks of these stunningly talented young actors that the next generation of stars will emerge - which means audiences of the future have some real treats in store.
Overall, this is an enormously entertaining and well-written show performed by an astonishingly self-assured team of young actors - smashing stuff!
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Ambassadors Theatre
Our show listing for 13 The Musical
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