Reviewed by Karen Schwartzkopf
If catchy songs, memorable characters, and big laughs are the marks of a must-see musical, then Jewish Family Theatre’s production of 13 at the JCC gets an A+ across the board.
Directed by Debra Clinton, with superb musical direction from Jason Marks and very, very fun choreography by Kate Belleman, 13 is the story of a recently transplanted adolescent whose life is thrown into a blender. After Evan Goldman’s parents break up, his mom relocates them from NYC to Appleton, Indiana, just months before what is supposed to be the most awesome party of Evan’s young life, his bar mitzvah.
As Evan navigates life as an outsider in a new town, his attempt to make friends and get in with the cool-kid posse unfolds in musical, comical form. The story hits many of the usual points with jocks and cheerleaders, nerds and geeks, leaders and followers, all operating in a junior high school setting. The irreverent script isn’t whitewashed for grandma (“There will be tongue, there will be groping…”) but it’s not particularly crude either. It’s just honest – and very funny.
The kid cast (ranging in age from about 12 to 18 I’d guess) is stellar. Many of the usual faces from SPARC and Virginia Rep’s productions grace the intimate stage at the JCC. The ensemble numbers ooze energy. When I told Deb Clinton that I thought mine was one of the few families who had ever heard of 13, she assured me that the kids in the show knew the musical well and that they had lobbied to have it produced in RVA. That enthusiasm and familiarity is evident consistently over the course of the 90-minute, gloriously intermission-free production.
Aside from some early sound issues (which were cleared up quickly on opening night) my 14- and 16-year-old daughters and I could not identify a weak link in the production. Special shout-outs go to Andrea Taylor as Patrice (the nerdy academic), Brandon Farbstein as Archie (the geeky dwarf kid), and Christopher Chavez and Brandon McKinney as Malcom and Eddie, popular kid Brett’s “boys.” Our favorite musical numbers were “Terminal Illness,” “Tell Her,” and “Any Minute,” which coincides with the perfectly timed and expertly staged horror movie theater scene that will have you laughing out loud. Because I am familiar with the music, I did spend a little time watching the kids seated in front of me (who were seeing 13 for the first time) reacting at all the right moments and responding to the same songs we have come to love.
My younger daughter noted that Andrea Taylor (Patrice) sounded just like the Broadway CD we’ve been listening to for years. Conversely, I was impressed that Chandler Pettus did not sound exactly like the Evan Goldman from the CD. It was clear that Jason Marks made a few adjustments to adapt to Chandler’s range to bring out the best from this talented young performer. And the best part of that decision? The crowd was treated to a completely error-free night of vocal performances from an enormously talented and diverse young cast.
There are no adults in 13, which is probably why its Broadway run lasted less than six months. But that’s also one of the reasons it should sell out every night at the JCC in Richmond. Recommended for twelve and up, I have a suggestion. If your kids want to see one more movie this summer, do this instead: Drop them off at JCC with a bunch of friends to see 13. It’s definitely a better deal for your entertainment dollar.
13, from the youth theater division of Jewish Family Theatre at the Weinstein JCC, runs September 2, 3, 9, 10, and 12, at eight o’clock. Tickets are $10 for JCC members, and $12 for non-members.
Buy tickets at the door or click here.