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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
13
at the Bernard B. Jacobs

MANCHILD MELODY
By PATRICK LEE

  Graham Phillips and the cast/PH: Joan Marcus

It's a novel idea: a Broadway musical about thirteen year olds performed by kids of ( or near) the same age. But in the absence of solid storytelling the novelty of 13, wears thin.

The ninety- minute show ( directed by Jeremy Sams) boasts an instantly catchy, tuneful score by Jason Robert Brown, whose pop songs here are all at once hook-heavy, theatrically viable and comfortable for young voices. There's also peppy choreography by Christopher Gattelli, which by necessity finds fun expressing movement outside the typical Broadway dance vocabulary. And there's the infectious energy of the talented and likeable all-tween cast. When the kids are singing and dancing the show is pleasant, sometimes charming family-friendly entertainment that avoids preciousness as carefully as it avoids venturing beyond PG-rated territory. At least one number ( called " Bad, Bad News" ) a doo-wop flavored crowd pleaser for four of the boys in the supporting cast has showstopper potential.

Eventually, however, there is the plot to contend with, and it's standard issue cliche fit for a Nickelodeon sitcome. New kid in town Evan ( Graham Phillips) ditches his best friend Patrice ( Allie Trimm) on the first day of school to fit in with the cool kids, hoping they'll attend his all-important Bar Mitzvah party. Evan's parents may be recently divorced, but popularity is all that matters, It will surprise no one that after some scrapes with some stock characters- most notably the dumb jock ( Eric M. Nelsen) and the two-faced troublemaker ( Elizabeth Egan Gillies) - Evan learns the inevitable life lesson about the value of true friendship.

What will surprise is that 13 bungles this simplistic formulaic story, giving Evan too much unsympathetic business to convincingly redeem with a heartfelt song or two. The book (by Dan Elish and Robert Horn) makes Evan look mean-spirited rather than merely selfish when he not only shuns but publicly humiliates Patrice, and it's a challenge not to think of him as crass in the scene where he convinces a "special needs" classmate on crutches ( Aaron Simon Gross) to exploit his terminal illness. The audience might sensibly root for Patrice ( whose status as the school's social pariah is not suitably explained) to write him off.

Although the problematic storytelling prevents 13 from amounting to anything more than a diverting novelty, it's hard to be too disappointed with a musical that outs Jason Robert Brown songs in the mouths of babes. That's a treat for young and old alike.

 

 


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