So fresh and so tween




Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown

Book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn

Directed by Jeremy Sams

Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

242 West 45th Street

212-239, 6200, 13themusical.com

The new Broadway musical “13” appeals to “tweens,” teens and adults alike thanks to a clever, fun songbook and a story to which anyone who’s ever attended public school can relate. All the characters from one’s middle and high-school days are here, from the bullies and jocks to the popular “cool” kids, the brains, and the nerds. This 90-minute one act is as amusing as the classics “Hairspray” and “Grease,” but “13” is set in the 21st century—with all the cell phones and text-messaging madness—and shows just how difficult and traumatic present-day teen life can be.

Granted, much of “13” is derivative and features stereotypes of teenage life, but it’s a sure bet that anyone who attended school in the past three decades knew kids like the ones in this show. “13” is the typical “fish out of water” story about Evan Goldman (Graham Phillips, played Saturday nights by Corey J. Snide), a Jewish boy from New York who’s forced to move to the small town of Appleton, Indiana when his parents split up. Phillips, as Evan, has the perfect blend of gawkiness and vulnerability to make the character believable. He’s planning his bar mitzvah just as he’s getting acclimated to the strange Midwestern surroundings and meeting new friends. He’s totally out of place in such a white bread world of pubescent gentiles, but quickly meets and befriends two other outsiders, the sweet Patrice (Allie Trimm), and Archie (Aaron Simon Gross), who is disabled and uses crutches. Both Allie Trimm and Aaron Simon Gross inject the right amount of wistfulness into their characters.

Much of the story’s drama centers on Evan being forced to choose between Patrice and Archie and the more popular kids. There’s the blond jock Brett (Eric M. Nelsen), the cheerleader Kendra (Delaney Moro) and the slutty Lucy (Elizabeth Egan Gillies) and many others who are caught up in peer pressure and aren’t totally keen about Evan’s upcoming bar mitzvah. Dan Elish and Robert Horn’s book is mostly typical teenage angst about setting up dates with girls, the pain of not fitting in with others, and just how cruel kids can be just to be a member of the “in” crowd.

Jason Robert Brown’s score is energetic and captures the essence of seriocomic teenage drama in songs like “What It Means To Be A Friend,” “All Hail the Brain” and “A Little More Homework.” There’s a marvelously winsome number about adolescent romance, “Tell Her.” Allie Trimm, as the nice but unpopular Patrice, is especially touching when singing such numbers as “The Lamest Place in the World,” about the grim reality of being a pariah in a small town with narrow-minded people. There’s even a rock-tinged Torah number Evan sings at his bar mitzvah, something one won’t see in most teen musicals. Nearly all the songs help propel the plot forward, as is the case in any well-structured musical. Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is hardly groundbreaking but nonetheless appropriate, particularly in the opening number “13/Becoming a Man.”

It would be unfair to say that “13” simply tries to capitalize on the popularity of current hits like “High School Musical” because this show has so many trenchant songs about the perils of youth and there’s a lot of talent onstage. David Farley’s sets, showing both Manhattan and bucolic Indiana, are cartoonish but still anchor the story quite well. Jeremy Sams directs the teenage cast with natural precision, and the performances never seem forced or too melodramatic. Although teenage life has been the subject of so many musicals, “13” is innovative enough to stand on its own.