Friday, February 19, 2010
Teen angst musical gets Ohio premiere at Fairmount Conservatory
Jason Robert Brown, Dan Elish and Rob Horn’s ’13,’ a musical centering on teenage angst, is getting it’s Ohio premiere at the Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory (FPAC).
‘13’ finds Evan Goldman, a happy Jewish kid from New York City, closing in on his bar mitzvah. His big dream is to have a great party with all his friends. Evan’s parents suddenly announce that they are getting divorced and Evan and his mother are going to move to Indiana. Specifically, Appleton, Indiana. How is that kid, with no friends, going to have a bar mitzvah blast? Is that a place to hold what Even refers to as, “the event that defines you, the Jewish super bowl!”
But, as is the case with this type of story, all is not lost. Evan meets his new neighbor, Patrice, a quirky girl who is as much of an outcast in this Midwestern burg as Evan. They jointly sing, “The Lamest Place in the World.” The rest of the predictable story concerns Evan trying to be popular and get lots of kids to come to his party. In the process he goes head to head with Brett, the football hero at Dan Quayle Junior High (I did not make this up!), and Brett’s attempt to “do the tongue” with Kendra, the head cheerleader. Throw in a quirky crippled kid, a dozen or so hormone and gossip producing tweens and teens, and you’ve got the story. A story which would make a great afternoon TV special, and, of course, has a happy ending!
Okay, this is not a great script. Not a story that adults, except in remembering their own teen years, will get involved in. But that’s okay. It’s not aimed at adults. It’s specifically aimed at a generation of kids addicted to gadgets, who have short attention spans, and are in the midst of those “junior high years.” The years of feeling like a freak, wanting to fit in. The age of gossip, mortifying nicknames, and peer pressure. The unrelenting peer pressure to be someone smarter, prettier, hipper, and better than who you are. The years of the hierarchy of your status determined by at which lunch table you were allowed to sit. (“Oh, please don’t make me sit with the Geeks!”)
The FPAC show, under the direction of Sean Szaller, has many high and low points. The cast is enthusiastic, and in the main quite talented. The blocking is often awkward. The choreography, which has some cute gimmicks built in, tends to be more dynamic than disciplined. The music is well played. The sound system squealed with regularity which was very distracting. The character development is not always clear. Too bad Szaller didn’t work more on teaching the cast to portray reality. These are teenagers playing teenagers, rather than actors acting how teenagers are supposed to be.
The cast highlights included Dani Apple as Patrice, the outcast girl. Apple, who has a long record of local and national successes, continues to mature as a singer and actress. Her very strong musical abilities, at least at this point in her career, are ahead of her acting skills. She, along with Alexis Floyd, are the most mature performers on stage. Floyd rocks, rolls, wails, and dances up a storm in the dynamic after-curtain call. This is the highlight of the show.
Miles Sternfeld has a nice presence as Evan. He has a pleasant singing voice and develops a clear character. Aric Floyd and Daniel Sovich, as the shrimp-sized sidekicks of the football hero, are totally delightful. The duo sing and dance with spirit and are fun to watch.
Jordan Brown nails the characterization of Archie, the “cripple,” who plays his illness for all it’s worth. “Terminal Illness,” his duet with Evan, is a joy.
Other strong songs and production numbers are: “Hey Kendra,” “Get Me What I Need,” “What It Means to be a Friend,” and “Tell Her.”
“Being a Geek,” performed by Evan and the “Rabbis,” was mocking and offensive. As a tween sitting next to me whispered to her friend, “Why are they making fun of rabbis and Jewish people?”
Be aware that this is not the “junior” version of the show. The presentation includes language and sexual innuendos which some parents will find objectionable.
The opening night audience, consisting of relatives and friends of the cast and crew, loved all the goings on and gave the performance a screaming standing ovation. It was a bit much, an example of bias goes wild, but, in reality, their reactions were justified. They came, they saw, they enjoyed.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘13’ is a slight script, which will have strong appeal to tweens and teens. It is being performed by teenagers, not theatre professionals, and it does itself proud on its own level. Adults should will themselves back to the age of teen angst. Teens should revel in life as they know it. And they should go and enjoy a group of kids who are having a wonderful time, making their personal dreams of being “stars” come true.