13 THE MUSICAL: High-Energy and Poignancy at Mainstage Center for the Arts

by Jack Shaw

Mainstage Center for the Arts at Camden Community College kicked off its Summer Stage with a musical explosion of 13 kids coming of age story, 13 THE MUSICAL. It was a powerful and poignant reminiscing of our own experiences–for some of us there were days we want to forget, for others some there were days with lessons we need to remember. Besides reminding me of my own early days or middle school then (we had K-7 and 8-12), but we had the same experiences. It reminded me of other familiar moments. From an adult perspective, it went something like this:

The cast of 13 THE MUSICAL "at the movies": Archie (Ryan Connelly) tries to move in on Kendra (Kelsea Feder) and Brett's (Tyler Shivers) date.

“Don’t worry, dear. The kids will be fine, it’s just middle school.” I also said, “It’s just high school” … and it’s just college.” Sometimes we forget how hard it was for us.

True enough these are fantastic times of change, and most of the time the kids learn what it takes to develop into an adult. They do come out of it fine. They say the worst comes in middle school–this angst of becoming a teen–a young adult, of wanting to fit it, of being disappointed and hurt, of winning and losing friends, of learning true friendship, of learning who you are. Contrary to some, you don’t learn it all in kindergarten. It is a fierce time of learning everyone is not like you, everyone may not like you and everyone is just as scared as you are.

Besides the usual basic sibling rivalry we are experiencing right now, we are also seeing our kids experience the transition to being teens, to attending new schools, making and losing friends, and other social experiences that go with making the larger decisions that affect the way you are the rest of your life. So, I decided to bring my wife, tween (Allie) and new teen (Aidan) to the show with me. Actually they insisted on coming to this very relevant play. You see it affects all forever–even though we have already experienced those trying times.

The cast had a very appreciative audience, many jumping up in a standing ovation. The impressive ensemble  of 13 “kids” frolicked and raged on the stage, and made me feel older but inspired. There, in fact, seemed no lack of energy–energy I as an adult seemed to lack. The choreography stood out as a strong actor itself, often wild, but just right for this tale. Think of WEST SIDE STORY, FAME and A CHORUS LINE  and quite a few others –  shows that also bring the choreographic art to the forefront at times. Costumes add to that, and they were well-done as well. The music was necessarily loud, but just right for a show of this nature. Especially brassy and brash, and full of high spirit, it rocked most of the time, with a few quieter poignant moments to even it out.

Jason Robert Brown wrote the music and lyrics and that didn’t surprise me. He’s the same guy who created the THE LAST FIVE YEARS, which is a very powerful and poignant story of love and life. It’s a show where the songs have deeper meaning than the dialogue, and where its obvious true feelings are hard to share and deal with. It is the same story here–a different significant point in time. Co-directors and choreographers, Kevin Hurley and Chris Melohn kept the show moving with 13 on the stage almost the entire 90 plus minutes that flew by. I was especially impressed with the crowded stage being used as a way to show how overwhelming the experience is; if ever there is a time for crowding on the stage the playing loud music over boisterous action, this is it.

Brayton Bowman (Evan) and Tyler Shivers (Brett) argue over because Brett thinks Kendra is cheating on him with Evan.

My kids couldn’t stop talking about show after it was over so I told them they had to write my review for me–at least give me some quotes. So here’s what they thought. I changed only the spelling and punctuation some of the time.

Allie, age 11, starting 7th grade in the Fall:

This is a story of what a 13-year-old boy named “Evan” (Brayton Bowman) who deals with what is going on in middle school and his good and bad decisions that will “change his life forever.”

But when he promises many things chaos was everywhere. Rumors spread that there are many reasons to do stuff and not do stuff. But his biggest decision is to be with the coolest kid “Brett” (Tyler Shivers) or to help a creep who is dying, “Archie” (Ryan Connelly) and mostly when “Patrice” (Alexa Ginotti) is his friend who he loses. “Evan’s” life starts to shatter. What will he do? And what will he choose?

I think that 13 was well choreographed and the characters were well cast though I would like to point out a couple of people and their characters that I especially liked.

  • Brayton Bowman (“Evan”) had a lot of experience and used it in a way you could tell that was different from the other characters.
  • Justina Ercole as Lucy in Mainstage Center for the Arts' production of 13 THE MUSICAL.

  • Justina Ercole who played “Lucy” gave an amazing performance with her character. She showed how well she liked “Brett” and knew how to start rumors to stop his love for “Kendra” and gave the character a new feeling.
  • Kelsea made me feel more like she was really “Kendra.” She probably really thought about how to act if she were sweet, popular and didn’t really know how to make her own decisions.

Overall I thought that this play had good casting and a fantastic story line!

Aidan, age 13, starting 9th grade in the Fall:

My favorite character is “Archie.” (His Batman wheelchair is cool.)

The jokes were funny for adults and kids, but it also had a great message.

The story of 13 is about a kid named “Evan” who moves from New York City to Appleton, Indiana.

When he first arrives, he meets “Patrice,” who quickly befriends him. Over the course of the story, he tries to impress the popular kids so they will come to his Bar Mitzvah. Meanwhile they are exploiting him for their own personal needs (like having him get tickets to an R-rated movie). Eventually, he gets sick of it, and stands up to them, receiving a punch in the face in return. Only “Patrice” and “Archie” (the kid in a wheelchair with a degenerative disorder) show up to his Bar Mitzvah. In the end, they all realize that “Today turns today turns today,” and that they just have to “put one foot in front of the other.”

I’ve seen a lot of plays this year and this is definitely one my favorites. I can relate to the plot, and as can probably anyone else in middle or high school. And the adults, though they aren’t going through it right now, have experienced it before when they were our age.

The songs and choreography help the story along, instead of being detached tangents from the main plot line.

There you have it. The story of 13 THE MUSICAL is a fine, giving show, with bold choreography and vibrant, resonating music.

The very talented and dedicated group of actors, played kids mostly their own ages with definite believability, although some of the acting was a bit exaggerated as on Nickelodeon and Disney scale, and generally where subtlety is a tough art to master; that’s actually kind of nitpicking on my part. In musicals, I don’t expect the same kind of acting I need to see in Chekhov or Shakespeare, but believable reactions are necessary. Doing a show like this, the over-the-top acting may help the younger members of the audience; after all that’s what they see on TV.

Traditional musicals don’t always have realistic acting (it’s usually the set up for the song), but it needs to be even-handed, though it can be easily be over the top. There are exceptions, however, the acting was pretty consistent in this one. With the rest of the elements operating at full capacity, it’s not surprising the acting should be of a similar nature. A great job.

The audience, too, was pretty young–meaning mostly college age and a few peers (in their teens). The music, tempo and volume were most appropriate. Even without an intermission, it played fast and furious and made its point well.

If there ever is a time for a show to make you leave a little relieved what others are going through as adults or have lived the same experiences as kids, this is it. As theatre does most often, it reminds us of who we are, how we are quick to point out differences and how we became that way, but it also shows how we are so much we are alike.

Editor’s note: Coming up at Mainstage…starting July 13….CAMP ROCK, ALADDIN JR., HAIRSPRAY and ANNIE JR.  All shows have very short runs….check website for details!  Don’t miss out!

Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn
Directed by Kevin Hurley
June 24-25, 2011
Mainstage Center for the Arts
at Dennis Flyer Theatre
Camden County College

Office: 856-232-1012
Tickets: 856-227-3091
Blackwood, NJ

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