Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Broadway Preview: 13

Broadway Preview: 13

Last time I checked in with a report on Jason Robert Brown's new musical 13 was just over 13 months ago.

At the time, I noted that the tuner about thirteen 13 year olds was being prepped for a Broadway bow sometime in early 2008. Of course, that time frame came and went.

But since then, the show was presented by Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut from May 9 through June 8. And the show has been announced for a Broadway berth.

Originally directed on year ago January by Todd Graff at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, a significantly revised version produced at Goodspeed was directed by Jeremy Sams and choreography from Christopher Gattelli. Dan Elish wrote 13's book.

On Jason Robert Brown's own blog, the award-winning composer takes note of how dramatically 13 evolved from its final performance on the Left Coast to its first on the East Coast:

The show is substantially different, in every respect, from the version produced in Los Angeles last year. First of all, just in terms of the writing itself, we've replaced more than half of the songs, re-focussed the story, added a half-hour of running time (and with it, an intermission), and probably changed every single line of the book except for four really good jokes. Paradoxically, the show is longer because it's leaner and tighter, and there is now a much straighter line from the beginning to the end. A lesson I learned this year with both 13 and the London revision of Parade is that it's all too easy to let a secondary character hijack the show. I know we solved it in Parade by cutting down Britt Craig's role; I think we've now solved it in 13.
Brown also discusses the difference a director makes:

Most importantly, we have a new director, Jeremy Sams, who has been invaluable both in his ability to cut the fat away from the story and in his understanding of the way music functions in the show. The fact that Jeremy is a formidable musician in his own right doesn't hurt. In fact, Jeremy is a terrifying polymath; a quick look at his résumé shows that he has directed successful plays and musicals on Broadway and the West End, as well as having written film scores, lyrics and books of musicals, and translations and adaptations of classic and obscure plays (from several different languages, all of which he speaks fluently). Dan and I are convinced that in the event of some horrible catastrophe, Jeremy is perfectly equipped to take over any and all jobs on the show, ours included.
Brown acknowledges the show's most unique aspect: casting child actors and a "kid band":

None of that would matter if we didn't have the talent onstage to bring this show to life, and I'm over the moon about the cast and band that we hired. Assembling the cast took a long time, and the final group that's going into rehearsal in two weeks comes from all over the country -- New York and the tri-state area, of course, but also Los Angeles, Texas, and Florida -- and while some of the kids have résumés longer than mine, others have never done a professional production before.

The band is an equally amazing group, and the band audition day was the most fun I've had in a long time; sixty-five awesomely gifted teenagers showed up and made glorious music together for seven hours. The hardest part was figuring out who to send home; all of the grownups in the room felt that we could have randomly picked five kids at any given time and ended up with a superb band. Needless to say, the five that made it to the end are exceptional. I know that kid musicians are not as used to the arbitrary and bizarre process of auditioning as kid actors are, so I wanted to take this space to thank all the musicians for coming out and playing so beautifully and rolling with the experience. Having a "kid band" is a huge experiment for a Broadway musical, but I know it's going to pay off handsomely.
Of course, that blog post was all the way back on March 24. Although 13 has been announced for Broadway's Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, with previews tentatively slated to begin September 16, there's been precious little additional information out there regarding the show.

Is that unlucky? Only for the countless Jason Robert Brown fans like me who can't wait to finally see this talented composer's next effort. The good news is that folks like Chris Caggiano (Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals) had decent things to say about the Goodspeed mounting (Chris called the tuner "promising").

I'm looking forward to our collective fortunes improving in the weeks ahead as more information is announced.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
Broadway Preview: Speed-The-Plow (July 8, 2008)
Broadway Preview: Billy Elliot - The Musical (July 7, 2008)
Broadway Preview: Godspell (July 6, 2008)
Broadway Preview: All My Sons (July 5, 2008)
Broadway Preview: A Man For All Seasons (July 3, 2008)
Broadway Preview: To Be Or Not To Be (July 2, 2008)
Broadway Preview: The Seagull (July 1, 2008)
Broadway Preview: Equus (June 30, 2008)
Broadway Preview: A Tale Of Two Cities (June 28, 2008)
Broadway Preview: for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf (June 25, 2008)
Broadway Preview: [title of show] (June 24, 2008)
Broadway: What's Next (June 20, 2008)
Not Unlucky: 13 Headed To Broadway (May 25, 2007)
Was 13 Lucky With Critics? (January 9, 2007)
Jason Robert Brown + Mark Taper Forum = 13 (January 7, 2007)
Flashback: Best of 2002-03 (May 25, 2006)
"13" Reasons to Take in LA Theatre This Winter (May 5, 2006)

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At 09 July, 2008, Blogger Vance said...

Ha, I was just thinking last night, I wonder when SOB is going to preview "13"?

I should have my review up soon but I'm going to finalize is when I get back from my vaca but I'm really curious to see what people are going to think. I know Chris thought it was so so but I thoroughly enjoyed it at Goodspeed and was amazed at the talent onstage.

It's a simple script and nothing revolutionary or life changing (about a story about life changes) and it doesn't sustain the momentum that the opening song "Thirteen" sets off (seriously, probably one of those best songs in musical history imho) but JRB creates a great musical for families and kids to enjoy and for those who can still remember the joys (and terrors) of being 13.

Plus it's so different than anything else he's done that I love the variety of his body of work and this just adds another layer to it.

At 09 July, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Vance, One of the best songs in musical history? That's a pretty incredible endorsement.

My biggest concern with 13 is that audiences may unfairly compare it against Spring Awakening. Thoughts?

At 09 July, 2008, Blogger Vance said...

Hmm... it's totally different to Spring Awakening and I think a total different audience in fact.

Hmm... I gotta think about this actually...

Without going into too much details, 13 is quite joyous and energetic and youthful (all that can be said for SA) but that has a general bright outlook and is probably geared to sell well to middle Ameirca visitors which while I know saying this will make it sound bad, isn't actually a slight towards it at all.

And well. maybe not ALL time but "Thirteen" definitely had a huge impact for me and I thought it was catchy, clever and starts the show with quite the bang. Actually, yes, it's one of my favorite songs in musical history (THOUGH, my musical history knowledge isn't THAT great so you'll have to take that into consideration).

At 09 July, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Vance, Don't sell yourself short. From all that I've read on your site, I know you've seen more than your share of musicals to be able to discuss with conviction!

I'm really looking forward to seeing the show, and your advance endorsement only contributes to my enthusiasm!

At 09 July, 2008, Blogger Vance said...

did I mention that JRB was there the day I saw it (which was the last day of the run at Goodspeed actually). Apparently he had been there a lot taking notes and stuff and word is they are recasting a bit (I can guess which one or two actors but other than that, I was floored by the young talent on stage).

But as for musical history, I've actually HAVEN'T seen a lot of classic old stuff, and when I do, I usually appreciate it but don't love it.

I'm actually curious to what my reaction will be to South Pacific (which I see in just over a week) since I thought Oklahoma was only alright when I saw it last year.

At 09 July, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Vance, I can appreciate why you may have found Oklahoma! a bit dated. I don't believe South Pacific will feel like as much a relic. (Mind you, I love them both, but I'm just sayin'!).

I'll be eager to see more information on the casting of 13 and hope to update my site with more news on this show as it becomes available.

Appreciate all you've done to add to the discussion.

At 11 July, 2008, Blogger Mel said...

Vance, I was also at the closing Goodspeed performance and said a quick hello to Jason Robert Brown. I like the score very much, but I'm not sure the show, in its current form, ever rises above a kids musical. There's just not enough there there in the book, as wonderful as the score is. You can read what I wrote about it here:


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