Monday, October 06, 2008

Did Critics Treat 13 With Kid Gloves?

Did Critics Treat 13 With Kid Gloves?

While the really big news today, of course, is the further sliding of the global economy, as evidenced by this morning's sell-off on Wall Street, further to the north on Broadway, yesterday, Jason Robert Brown's musical 13 rocked the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Helmed by Jeremy Sams, the tuner features Brown's score with a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, along with choreography by Christopher Gattelli. The show about thirteen 13 year olds in Indiana features Graham Phillips, Al Calderon, Eamon Foley, Caitlin Gann, Elizabeth Gillies, Ariana Grande, Aaron Simon Gross, Malik Hammond, Joey La Varco, Delaney Moro, Eric Nelsen, Allie Trimm and Brynn Williams.

On the whole, critics offered middling assessments.

Proclaiming this a "disarmingly charming new musical," Barbara Hoffman (where is Clive??) of New York Post offers three out of four stars: "With a raw, rousing score by Jason Robert Brown sung by a cast of 13- to 17-year-olds, it's Sondheim for MySpacers -- the perfect show for those too old for Disney, too young for Spring Awakening, and too impatient to wait for a new block of Wicked tickets.... Brown, the 38-year-old Tony-winning composer of Parade and The Last Five Years, has written some catchy numbers and at least one winsome ballad, 'What It Means To Be a Friend,' that clearly registered with its young audience. Director Jeremy Sams gets a few standout performances, notably from Elizabeth Egan Gillies, 15, whose lacerating Lucy, all cellphone and attitude, is a junior-varsity Joan Crawford."

Noting that "there's not much in this sweet all-adolescent tuner to engage anyone past puberty," Variety's David Rooney says that it target demographics should be: "no barrier to success... While the storyline by children's novelist Dan Elish and vet TV writer Robert Horn is a familiar fish-out-of-water tale populated by generics (geek, loser, gossip girl, beauty, jock, etc.), it has heart and charm. The kids in the age-appropriate cast are talented. And the score by Jason Robert Brown, which nimbly straddles pop and musical theater idioms, is several notches above the standard processed pap for teen tuners."

Calling it a "shiny and brash new musical," The New York Times' Ben Brantley gives average grades: "Though it features a buoyant score by Jason Robert Brown ... and a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn that dances friskily on the borders of bad taste, 13 ultimately feels as pre-processed and formulaic as that money-churning Disney franchise 'High School Musical.'... The characters are as eternal as types in commedia dell’arte, and the plot as set as that of a Passion play by way of young adult fiction.... The cast is fine. It avoids pushing too hard, which is always a mercy with young performers. Mr. Phillips has an easygoing forthrightness and emotional openness that anchors the production."

Labeling it a "cheerful and endearing, ebulliently performed and blandish musical," Linda Winer of Newsday provides a middling review: "Except for some icky-erotic coarseness for hungry young tongues, Jeremy Sams' direction and Christopher Gattelli's streetwise choreography keep the show close enough to the nice side of the street-pee jokes, Shrek quips and Jonas Brothers posters -- to live a long and lucrative life on Broadway and in school auditoriums. Did we mention that the 13 kid-performers and five-piece kid band are terrific? They are, including Graham Phillips as Evan.... Al Calderon is a standout as a pintsized contender for the future Jersey Boys of America."

Offering that it's "neither a soaring, sobering account of troubled youth nor a glib commercial enterprise," USA Today's Elysa Gardner also offers a mixed critique: "Jason Robert Brown and librettists Dan Elish and Robert Horn serve up pop-culture parody peppered with politically incorrect humor and sweetened with some sentimentality. The plot is utter hooey in this case, centered on a Jewish boy from New York who lands in small-town Indiana when his parents split up just before his bar mitzvah.... That 13 is seldom either surprising or offensive is a credit to both the limited imagination of its creative team and the winsome freshness of its all-teen cast, directed with obvious affection by Jeremy Sams. With the exception of the strong-voiced Elizabeth Egan Gillies, who is rather too convincing as the precocious mean girl of her class, none of these performers come across as stage kids, and their unaffected energy is undeniably contagious."

Concluding that "The pubescent crowd may find this new musical fascinating -- but Mom and Dad will be left thinking about 13 better ways they could have spent their ticket dollars," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News is among the most negative in his two out of five star review: "It is fun watching these fresh-faced youths sell the show, but the novelty wears thin soon enough and one wishes what they were pushing was better material.... If the point is that kids get labeled for no good reason, then someone might have said that. Or sung that. As is, the score by Jason Robert Brown is pleasant enough, tripping from pop and Carly Simon-ish ballads to blues. While short on character development, Brown's lyrics do manage to evoke teen-speak, as when boys lament that their buddy 'fell for a slut with a fabulous butt.'"

While teens love rollercoaster rides, the current economic one their parents are likely on at the moment may preclude the target demographic from seeing this or many other shows. Certainly there are many ad-worthy critical quotes that 13's marketing team can incorporate into its promotions, but it will have to get past the current 42.3% capacity at the box office in order for the tuner to be anything but unfortunate in its Broadway timing.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 07 October, 2008, Blogger Mondschein said...

I saw it last week - left about 2/3 of the way through.

Smacked a bit of "Glory Days" to me. If there's little to say a year out of high school, there's even less to say about the melodrama of being 13 years old.

At 07 October, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I'm really on the fence about this one, although bit by bit, I think I'm slipping off.

If I lived in New York, it would be a no-brainer. I'd see everything. But if you don't get to New York that often, you have a much bigger stake in everything you choose. And while I like taking a risk on something, there's just so much to see.

I like Jason Robert Brown and I like the story of the Jewish kid getting transplanted to Indiana. And there are shows I've loved that other people haven't. But the more I read (and I read everything - reviews, blogs, message boards) the more I think maybe I should skip this one.


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